Monday, 23 September 2013

Jim Murphy, affront to democracy

In case you don't know who Jim Murphy is, he's the current Labour Shadow Minister for Defence. I remember him as a particularly reactionary president of the National Union of Students, back in the days when the National Organisation of Labour Students stitched up the presidency to ensure that a) the NUS continued to blindly serve the interests of the Labour Party's upper echelons and b) provide a training job for future MPs and Cabinet Ministers (cf. Jack Straw). Indeed, I have a file of satirical flyers and posters about Mr Murphy from those halcyon days, all predicting his eventual elevation.

Mr Murphy was then and still is one of those grim-faced machine politicians whose self-appointed job is to ensure that the Labour Party tacks ever to the right wing of politics. He has zero interest in the ordinary lives of this country's citizens. I've never detected a shred of political principle on his part, merely a determination to submit to the prejudices of the Daily Mail, The Sun and The Telegraph. As Defence Shadow Minister, his role is to deify the military and ensure that we never stop spending billions on illegal weapons of mass destruction, driven by taunts that his party is 'soft on defence': he's a spiritual grandson of Bevin et al.

This morning's outrage is brought to you by Mr Murphy's performance at the Labour Party conference, where he's cynically utilised the brutal murder of young soldier Lee Rigby several months ago. Mr Murphy has announced that attacking a member of the armed forces is now to be a specific criminal offence.

What's wrong with this, you may ask? It was an horrific event and the military do a difficult job (etc. etc. our boys…heroes…blah blah blah).

What's wrong with this is that attacking anyone is already a criminal offence: violence is reserved for the state under this country's laws. The safety of the individual is paramount, and the law demands that it be applied equally. As one military officer, Colonel Rainsborough, said in 1647,
'I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest… I do find that all Englishmen must be subject to English laws; and I do verily believe that there is no man but will say that the foundation of all law lies in the people; and if it lie in the people, I am to seek for this exemption.
It's really simple for me. If you stab a soldier on the street, you go to prison. If you stab a milkman, teenager, pensioner or stockbroker on the street, you go to prison. The right to life is sacrosanct. Yet Murphy's Law will divide the people of this country into two categories: the military and the rest of us. Yet British law and custom specifically holds uniformed personnel to be simply 'citizens in uniform', with surprisingly few privileges: a bulwark against martial law and state oppression. In practice of course the police and armed services behave as though the'yre exempt from the laws applying to the rest of us: de Menezes, the guy killed while making his way home during the G20 protests, Northern Ireland and Baha Moussa, extraordinary rendition, the behaviour of the TSG and the the undercover cops fathering children with activists and subverting their legal activities. But the principle is an important one: that the armed and uniformed services are public servants, not our masters.

Imagine being caught up in some bar brawl in Aldershot, Colchester, Warminster or any of those garrison towns. Some drunk soldier takes exception to you and swings a punch. You all get to court and he's charged with common assault while you're done for common assault and violence against the person of the armed forces. A Quaker CND marcher is done for impeding a nuclear base's guard. Or a Northern Irish nationalist protest defending herself against state violence gets charged with extra offences. Does that look like fair and equal treatment? Once we decide that one person's body is more worthy of legal protection than another's, we've abandoned the notion of basic human rights entirely, on favour of a system in which power accrues rights while the rest of us hope for legal goodwill.

The second embarrassing thing about Mr Murphy's proposal is that it's such a shameless exercise in headline-grabbing. He isn't promising that a Labour Government will bring in this law. He's going to table it in Parliament next month, from the opposition benches. He knows perfectly well that such bills never succeed. They run out of time. Governments defeat opposition bills simply for political reasons. That's what Murphy wants: he can achieve headlines about uncaring Tories abandoning Our Boys. Either that, or the government adopts the Bill and declares itself the winner. I can't see any Conservative politicians making the point about equal citizenship: they'll wrap themselves in the flag at the first opportunity and another blow is struck against equality. So Murphy knows that this isn't going to become law: he's just after cheap headlines,

This is cynical, awful stuff. Murphy's got no defensible principle and he's reaching for the lowest form of tactical politics for short-term. I honestly thought that under Ed Miliband's leadership, this kind of nonsense was a thing of the past. I know he's under pressure to get some quick wins with the press, but he should be beyond this kind of rubbish. It's the sort of nonsense that makes me ashamed to be a member of the party.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One for the chop in the (supposedly) upcoming shadow cabinet reshuffle?