Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Engaging Reverse

I'm not a religious chap. As an impressionable stripling I admit that I rather enjoyed religious education and readings from the Old Testament filled to the brim with tales of woe, water and wilful wanking. As I progressed through school, I found the greatest pleasure in teasing out its inconsistencies. My mid to late teens saw me finally eschew the supernatural and the illogical cobblers of The Bible and Erik Von Daniken with his caravan of alterneratii, for a solidly materialist perspective. The transition from impish ignorance to Montesquieuian maturation was an eurekan enlightenment transformational process not dissimilar to the Vulcan mating ritual of pon farr, which I assumed most people including Leonard Nimoy, went through.

In a way, I was lucky. My dad was an advocate of Marx's maxim of ruthlessly criticising everything that exists including my first pierced ear lobe. (1) Yet I recall him once telling me that he had reached a point in his life, that so dispirited was he that he'd seriously considered going into the Catholic church. I believe this was in response to the crisis of Stalinism in the USSR during the 1950s which created a series of internal crises of confidence for many communists. At the time I found it difficult to reconcile this admission with his Marxist views. It was only later that I began to understand how Stalinism had sowed political and ideological confusion widely and deeply throughout the left in the second half of the 20th century. With the international revolutionary left divided on the best organisational strategy to roll-back the juggernaut of neoliberalism currently bulldozing its way across the Mercator and through what remains of state-funded public services, it's clear that the dead weight of Stalinism still weighs heavily on the Marxist left. But it got me to thinking, which regular readers of this blog will know, is nearly always a bad thing.

An engaging chap

Jean Jacques Dessalines - kicked Napoleon's arse
and did more to end slavery than 

Abraham Lincoln and William Wilberforce
I recently stumbled across a 2011 article by Melvyn Bragg in the Telegraph on the King James Bible. Bragg is a great admirer of this lexicon of liturgy. Within this article, he dips a slender business finger into the sticky honey pot of common sense. Take for example, the matter of the abolition of slavery and one Mr William Wilberforce. Now I remember reading about slavery at school and Wilberforce featured in the abolitionist camp to some fine tune. And of course, only a poltroon of the highest abandon would denigrate Wilberforce's role in the wider campaign to abolish slavery. But where, I wondered, were the Quakers in Bragg's abolitionist schema? They did after all tirelessly campaign for abolition in Britain? Where was Thomas Clarkson? Clarkson did as much if not more than any other individual to raise in the wider consciousness the brutality and inhumanity of the trade in 'black skins'. He was also rather an adept organiser riding somewhere in the region of 35,000 miles on horseback, criss-crossing Britain, spreading the abolitionist word. While he was at it, he also took great pains to gather first hand testimony for the abolitionist cause whilst founding anti-slavery committees in whichever town he rested. What of Olaudah Equiano, a slave who earned his freedom and wrote a best-selling life story that was read by tens of thousands? Nor was there a nod towards the nationwide mass boycott of slave-grown sugar, which at its height was reputed to have involved around 300,000 people, being quite possibly the first PR based, mass consumer campaign.(2)

The beginning of the end

Finally, and most importantly, there is no mention of the slave uprising and the self emancipation from slavery by the slaves for the slaves, in the French slave colony of St Domingue (present day Haiti) led by Toussaint Louverture in 1791. It was the military success of Louverture (and after his capture Jean Jacques Dessalines) and the sheer bloody determination of the black slaves to free themselves and found their own free, self governing state which was to send shock waves around the pro-slavery world and bring this African holocaust to the beginning of its end. Abolition certainly wasn't brought to these oppressed by the warships of the British Royal Navy enforcing the belated will of the British Parliament nor in any of the speeches of William Wilberforce. There's a slight whiff  of a 'great men' reading of history in Bragg's view. We might also call it a common sense reading of the anti-slavery movement in Britain, and it's one I'm sure the Gove-ish right would positively endorse.

Maybe I'm being a little harsh. Lord Bragg is after all... well he's a Lord. He's a cultured chap, having curated the South Bank Show for many a year. One needs more than a modicum of intellect to wade in such culturally refined waters. But there's an overtone to this article and I can't help feeling it's ever so slightly hostile to the concept of 'reason' or more precisely what Bragg denotes as 'atheistic reason':

'I respect those who have no faith or little faith or are indifferent to it, but the current notion that atheistic reason marks the apotheosis of human intelligence, strikes me as being very doubtful. I’m as certain as I can be that there’s more to come.'

Lord Melvyn doesn't really elaborate on what this 'more to come' might be. Yet it's possible to divine from his words his real meaning and it's a word which carries with it a considerable degree of authority - it's the word 'belief'. As if to buttress his newly rekindled religious reawakening, Bragg calls up the names of Einstein, the Astronomer Royal Lord Rees and the physicist Stephen Hawking. He doesn't raise the name of one noted scientist Professor Richard Dawkins to reinforce his case for one very good reason. Dawkins' recent foray into the spume of what's been described 'militant atheism', is intrinsically hostile to Lord Braggs' personal view of faith. However Bragg is onto something when as it's reported, he 'poured scorn on the famous atheist's reliance on “reason” to destroy the Christian argument, insisting that faith was something that should be carefully examined.'

Dawkins: accepts that evolution goes only in one direction. 
What are his views on the establishment of a private
university which would appear to go in the 
other direction?

The Dawkins Delusion?

Here Bragg and I agree. I don't see there's much in the way of value in engaging in debates or long expositions with religious fanatics or leading churchtypes as a way to undermine religion and religious ideas. He might convince a largeish handful to reject their gods. However, US imperialism and its sponsorship of various Middle Eastern autocracies, the antics of it's best Zionist friend in that region and a few unmanned drones over Pakistan will inevitably create far greater numbers of radicalised religious adherents. The world's most advanced technological industrial economy is perfectly happy to co-exist, indeed encourage the rantings of the Christian fundamentalist right, a group not known for advocating progressive or liberal policies.

If Dawkins wants to see the back of religion, it aint gonna happen his way. So, if it's not Professor Dawkins militant atheism that exerts a tidal influence over serious numbers of humankinderies, what does? It's capitalism and religion - in that order. That religion can still command the loyalty of hundreds of millions of believers on the grounds of an idea, stands as a testament to the sheer flexibility of the various doctrines. To put it bluntly, if it didn't adapt, it wouldn't survive the titanic forces that it's exposed to on a daily basis by the hegemonic system of capitalism. Surely Professor Dawkins sees the immense irony in the persistence of organised religions and their concomitant religious ideologies within an inherently hostile environment, demonstrating in real time, the evolutionary theories he famously expounds?

Your eminently flexible friend

Religion is as globally relevant today as it was in the time of the First Crusade in 1096. It's inherent theological and textual flexibility allows adaptation, refinement and bespoke tailoring for the benefit of a dominant ruling class that a Saville Row suit maker would envy to the nth degree. Don't take my word. Look at the historical record which provides ample examples. Religion rarely if indeed ever, runs ahead of systemic socio-economic/political change. In fact the opposite is the case. The historical record shows us that established religious institutions and doctrines have acted like an fouled anchor chain on newly emerging systems of production and exchange. The friction created by this inertia has led to periods of intense social, economic and political contestation - they're called revolutions and their impact on society is usually profound. Take the English Revolution for example.

For God, for Queen King and for Country!

Our ancestors largely accepted the common sense that the monarch sat at the right hand of God. The pulpit and the sermon maintained and disseminated this prevailing wisdom across Europe and beyond. In consequence, European ordinary folk (usually poor and horribly exploited under an oppressive feudal system) suffered the whimsies of kings and tribulations often associated with monarchical absolutism. Between the years of 1640-60, a huge grass roots social movement developed in what we know today as Britain which attempted to dislodge this nugget of common sense with the not inconsiderable assistance of an army of russet-coated chaps and an executioner's chopping block. This process spread further with revolutions in America (1776), France (1789) and later two revolutions in Russia in 1917 which finally laid to rest the spectre of this type of absolutism in the West. It was a process which managed to remove by force of arms, God's divine fingers from of the plum duff of the political and economic sphere. These first three revolutions, although important for the promulgation of the enlightenment project, can be said to have provided the ideological and scientific foundations for capitalism to develop: they were firmly bourgeois revolutions.

Howzat: the first wicket keeper?
Cauldron of the revolution?

Despite the far-reaching consequences of these revolutions, they failed to completely eviscerate the church from the state, allowing it to re-root itself in the fertile soil of emerging bourgeois (capitalist) society. In Britain, Protestantism and later Methodism, proved eminently adaptable taking their place in the vanguard of unregulated industrialisation. Both demonstrated how religion could through a variety of twists and turns, continue to provide valuable services to capitalism particularly in the sphere of ideological control. And as Marx recognised, so often because of the propensity of capitalism to shift into overdrive in the 'race to the bottom', religion also acted as a salve on its worst excesses, providing a haven or 'a heart in a heartless world' to the impecunious individual.

Gandery sauce

Throughout history, to the oppressor and the oppressing minority class, religion provided a code by which to live (and importantly a schematic by which the majority 'others' should live). Yet for the oppressed, religion provides a common framework by which they may conceptually locate and thus interpret their own oppression. It can also provide the oppressed with a common language of resistance, and the means or an arena (the congregation or church) whereby radical or even revolutionary levelling ideas can be translated into direct actions:

" …a numberless crew of locusts have sprung out of the bottomless pit, assuming to themselves the names of Arians, Arminians, Socinians, Antinomians, Anabaptists, Familists, Antiscripturists, Antisabbatarians, Antitrinitarians, Libertines, Erastians, Levellers, Mortalists, Millenaries, Enthusiasts, Separatists, Semiseparatists, Quakers, and many more of the same brood … No country from the foundation of the world hath brought forth and brought up, so many monstrous births as it [England] hath done." (3)

Yet Bragg chooses to invert this schematic, putting the cart before the horse:

"There is much else that secularists, atheists and the indifferent choose to ignore in our history. This Bible inspired many great philanthropists, it gave purpose and support in the 19th century to the Bible Women and the Slum Sisters and the Sunday Schools, all of which took on the dispossessed and destitute in society and insisted on redemption and improvement. And there is more. But mostly we find other causes to explain these movements, and of course there were economic causes and political causes and the Enlightenment played an increasing part, but the King James Bible, the national book which fed so many of our great writers and gives us so much of our daily speech still, was the life force of much that makes the modern world."

Adapt and survive

Unlike Bragg's idealism, I see the motivations of the groups he mentions, as residing either in their guilt or self-interest, or for the more socially minded, based in their intrinsic humanity. African slaves, converted to Christianity on the plantations, hardly had need of a holy book to make them conscious of their own miserable oppression. That they framed it and their gradual but increasingly organised opposition to it in the religious language of the day, was premised upon their own interpretation of 'the Good Book' and the sermons of anti-slavery proselytes.

Yet what should we make of a body of theology that can with apparent ease, have an appeal for those at the top and bottom of society? Religion like nationalism, acts like reinforced concrete, setting hard in the interstices between contending class interests in societies. The structurated wooliness of religion presents the likes of Dawkins with an insurmountable obstacle: as long as class oppression exists, religion (in all its forms) will adapt and survive. I can provide a golden nugget of evidence straight from the horses mouth. Even in the face of the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that validates Darwin's evolutionary theories, the  Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in a 'public dialogue' with Richard Dawkins, can embrace evolution without fear of contradiction from a higher authority when he states that 'he believed that human beings had evolved from non-human ancestors but were nevertheless “in the image of God”.

Agar capitalism

The insurmountable problem Dawkins has to confront is not religion per se. It's the conditions that allow these superstitious anachronisms to persist and flourish. Simply put, in order to consign religion to the ash heap of history, one must also consign to the shitter-emptying-pit, the systemic causes of want, war, ignorance, poverty, exploitation and oppression in its multifarious guises - ie capitalism.

I'm no spring chicken. Nor is Lord Bragg. I'm nearer to the end than I am the beginning. Nor am I a churl of the first order of magnitude. I respect a person's right to 'believe' and to practice any religion or form of worship they so wish as long as they they're not trying to impose it on others, particularly when those others are me. Maybe his 'first steps back on the road to faith' provide him with some solace and warmth in realisation of his own mortality? Maybe this reverse rests on the apparent global hegemony of a liberalising capitalist system that appears to have seized the ideological high ground? I understand why it daily humiliates former left leaning intellectualites into an accommodation with the prevailing wisdom of 21st century. Yet I find it odd that the same forces should drive Lord Bragg into an apparent accommodation with the common sense of a bygone 17th century autocrat.

Notes and References

(1) Marx to Ruge Kreuznach, September 1843, sourced at
(2) Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains, Mariner Books, 2006
(3) Thomas Hall 1660 sourced at

Usual disclaimer: This work is and expression of opinion on a matter of public interest and contains the opinions of the author. It is intended to report current events that are of public interest and public concern. The reproduction and use of any documents, photos and video images herein is to provide humour and accuracy in order to avoid civil litigation and claims of misquoting. In reporting current events they are used within the context of Fair Dealing or Fair Use. The author is happy to provide further acknowledgement if requested (email below). 

 The author also suggests that before embarking upon expensive civil actions for libel, contact the author. We have reams of documentary evidence which we are happy to provide. A right of reply also operates. We are also happy to make corrections and if necessary provide an apology. Email
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Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Locus Eaters

Ebb and flow

An allegedly libellous chap entered court number 45, floor ten of the Manchester Civil Justice Centre on Friday 5th October 2012 a little before midday, expecting little and exited quite excited. The inauguration of this excitement began when senior judge Mr Justice Bean suggested that the statements pleaded by the University (Statement of Case or Particulars of Claim) have Jameel written all over them. A concise interpretation of what is referred to as a 'Jameel abuse' can be garnered here. It was suggested by Mr Justice Bean that there is some discussion to be had as to whether all or part of the University's claim should be struck out on the basis of a Jameel abuse or for other reasons. In this chap's opinion there are many reasons for striking this claim out such as:

  • That the statement of case, specifically the Particulars of Claim provided by the claimant (them) to the defendant (me), disclose no reasonable grounds for bringing the claim, and is an abuse of process,
  • The claimant's claim has no reasonable prospect of success,
  • The claimant's claim is an abuse of the Court's process and that the claimant is using that process for a purpose that is in a way significantly different from its ordinary and proper use,

The interesting matter of a chap called Locus Standi

The hearing became even more interesting when the judge raised the matter of whether the University could sue in libel (locus standi). As readers of this blog will know, I have up to this point, consistently raised this matter with the courts, it has to be said, to no avail. There are two conjoined strands to this argument. The first goes something like this: as the University is a public authority, it is by way of an important legal precedent, precluded from suing in defamation. This precedent is known as the 'Derbyshire Principle'. 

The University of Salford like most other British universities, is a Higher Education Corporation created by statute specifically to carry out a public function. Like grant-maintained schools, local authorities, the former National Coal Board, and the much lauded former British Rail, the Olympic Delivery Authority, the National Assembly for Wales, Channel Four Television amongst a host of others, the University of Salford is classed as a 'core' public authority. District Judge Richmond and the University have a contrasting view of the University's legal status - that it exists in the wider commercial world and therefore is not like a local authority. Clearly Mr Justice Bean has adopted a more pragmatic view of the University's legal status which in all likelihood corresponds to that given by Lord Keith in a landmark ruling:

"It is of some significance to observe that a number of departments of central government in the United Kingdom are statutorily created corporations, including the Secretaries of State for Defence, Education and Science, Energy, Environment and Social Services. If a local authority can sue for libel there would appear to be no reason in logic for holding that any of these departments (apart from two which are made corporations only for the purpose of holding land) was not also entitled to sue. But as is shown by the decision in Attorney-General v. Guardian Newspapers Ltd. (No. 2) [1990] 1A.C. 109, a case concerned with confidentiality, there are rights available to private citizens which institutions of central government are not in a position to exercise unless they can show that it is the public interest to do so. The same applies, in my opinion, to local authorities. In both cases I regard it as right for this House to lay down that not only is there no public interest favouring the right of organs of government, whether central or local, to sue for libel, but that it is contrary to the public interest that they should have it. It is contrary to the public interest because to admit such actions would place an undesirable fetter on freedom of speech. [Derbyshire County Council v The Times Newspapers and Others, [1993] AC 534, [1992] UKHL 6]"

I'm no fan of common sense. I prefer to see Mr Justice Bean's assessment of the University's legal status as corresponding to 'good sense'. After all, if the head teacher and governors at a grant-maintained school are classed as a 'core' public authority, and cannot sue in libel, where then does that leave the Vice Chancellor and Deputy Vice Chancellor and the governing body the University Council (including its members)? It's worth mentioning here that the Derbyshire ruling was a House of Lords decision - IN 1993! It may seem a bit pernickity to point out something called 'chronology' but the legal authority cited by the University's barrister Mr Simon Vaughan, entered to buttress the claim that the University can sue in libel (Hong Kong Polytechnic v Next Magazine Publishing Ltd [1977] HKLRD 514 HKCA) has the date 1977 affix't

Martin Hall: Has he invested tens of thousands of pounds
of University money on a fundamentally 
flawed libel action?
Freedom of speech - a human right?

I'm sure Martin Hall would agree with me that freedom to criticise is a key component of democracy. It does after all underpin our university system. How ironic then that it is an esteemed Vice Chancellor and his subordinate that are pursuing a course of action which is intrinsically hostile to this concept. Without wishing to be labelled 'a churl', it might also be worth mentioning another powerful piece of legislation which came into force IN 1998 one referred to in the judicial trade as the Human Rights Act. There is another known colloquially as the European Convention on Human Rights. Oddly enough, both have something to say on the subject of the right of a 'public authority' to interfere with an individual's Convention rights. Section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 is quite straight forward:

“It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right.”

Simple causation

It's clear that Hall and Graves' libel action raises all manner of incongruities and questions. But I'm sure they fully considered the implications of their actions when they first embarked upon this course? Tiny ripples in a pond etc... And it must be eminently clear to any member of the wider public who wishes to access the Rat Catchers of the Sewers, a website that has consistently raised matters of public interest and concern in what is after all a publicly funded university, that it is clearly no longer accessible to the public. It's effectively been 'chilled' by the issuance of Hall and Graves' libel proceedings. And let us be clear as to what Hall and Graves real intentions are with regard to this libel action. It's about securing an injunction to close down Rat Catchers of the Sewers and to close down this blog, Vagrants in the Casual Ward of a Workhouse for good. I can say this here without fear of retaliation because I've said it in open court earlier in the year. And on this matter, District Judge Richmond agreed with me.

Yet I'm sure many readers of this blog have a keen interest in establishing precisely why Martin Hall and Adrian Graves, who steer an institution that espouses and promotes enlightenment values, a core value of which is the promotion and enhancement of freedom of speech, should embark upon a course of action in the civil courts that in a rather unambiguous manner, tramples underfoot like so much night soil, my Article 10 rights to freedom of speech? I take the be-sodding of my rights rather seriously for it is a serious matter in the eyes of the highest courts... a very serious matter indeed. And rest assured, the restitution of my human right to freedom of expression will not end when these libel proceedings themselves collapse in an ignominious defeat.

Adrian Graves: before launching this libel action, 
did he and Hall run this past University Council, 
did they give them the green light and 
can I have a copy of the minute of this 
meeting and the written authorisation?

The outcome of Friday's hearing

Having taken a crash course in libel law, I am by no means versed in the subtleties of what is inferred when a senior judge calls into question a claimant's statement of case, or for that matter an institution's locus standi (legal standing or right) to sue in libel. A good friend with many years of experience in this matter put Mr Justice Bean's words into perspective: this libel claim is, in Fraserian terms "DOOMED"!

What they wanted.... what they got

They asked for 28 days to provide the court with a copy of its constitution which I take to be the Royal Charter and the accompanying statutes (I could find no evidence of a University of Salford 'consitution' via a quick Google search) and a skeleton argument as to why the University's statement of case should not be struck down either in parts or as a whole as a Jameel abuse. The judge gave them 14 (that's fourteen days) which any person with some knowledge of legal niceties should be able to interpret quite easily.

I eagerly await the skeleton argument that University of Salford's lawyer, libel supremo, Mr Ian Austin who is well versed in such matters as he specialises in commercial litigation, property litigation, contractual disputes and general commercial claims, will be placing before the court. It'll have to be based on compelling legal argument backed by one or two legal precedents that trump Derbyshire and the European Convention on Human Rights. Mr Justice Bean was very clear. If they can't provide a compelling argument as to why this public authority can be viewed as an exception to the rule and can sue in libel, then this very expensive libel case will fall. In many respects, a failure on appeal might be the most humane way of ending this debacle. One wonders how this case would be viewed by a Mr Justice Tugendhat at full trial?

Mr Justice Bean has now directed this matter to the Jury Lists in London. It will be heard in front of the UK's most preeminent defamation judges. In the immortal words of Windsor Davies "oh dear, how sad... never mind"!

Notes and References

Derbyshire County Council -v- The Times Newspapers Ltd and Others [1993] AC 534, [1992] UKHL 6
Jameel (Yousef) v Dow Jones and; Co. Inc. EWCA Civ 75; [2005] QB 946; [2005] 2 WLR 1614; [2005] EMLR 353

'Public Authorities' under the Human Rights Act 1998 sourced at
European Convention on Human Rights sourced at

Usual disclaimer: This work is and expression of opinion on a matter of public interest and contains the opinions of the author. It is intended to report current events that are of public interest and public concern. The reproduction and use of any documents, photos and video images herein is to provide humour and accuracy in order to avoid civil litigation and claims of misquoting. In reporting current events they are used within the context of Fair Dealing or Fair Use. The author is happy to provide further acknowledgement if requested (email below).

The author also suggests that before embarking upon expensive civil actions for libel, contact the author. We have reams of documentary evidence which we are happy to provide. A right of reply also operates. We are also happy to make corrections and if necessary provide an apology. Email