Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What Has Happened to Great Britain?

I have a soft spot for Britain. I lived there for several years in the 1980s and as a New Zealander of predominantly British extraction I look to it for symbols and trends that inform me about life in my own country that shares so many institutions and traditions with the Mother Country. Unfortunately, these days I do not like what I see.

Great Britain gave us the Magna Carta, the Common Law and the rule of law, the (original) Bill of Rights, John Locke, Thomas Paine, Adam Smith, the abolition of the slave trade and the bulldog spirit that stood alone against fascism for the first two years of World War II.  These great traditions made Britain by the 19th Century not only the wealthiest and  most powerful country in the world but probably the best to live in for the vast majority of its population. And it wasn't just the homeland that enjoyed this great, liberal tradition - it was the template for successful nation states all over the world. But today Britain is choosing to abandon all that has made it great and, in a sad irony, is adopting the characteristics of the despotic regimes its people have fought against down through the years.

Britain has more surveillance cameras per person than any other country on earth with an estimated 20% of all the world's public CCTV cameras - 5 million in total or 1 for every 11 people. It has revoked the right to silence in criminal cases (an important historical protection against the use of torture for obtaining evidence). More recently British judges have started jailing people for abusive comments on Twitter and following the Leveson Inquiry into hacking of cellphone records by News of the World journalists, the three major British political parties have agreed to introduce the regulation of all content of newspapers and other media. And in the latest assault on a free press and on free speech, a proposed 'deregulation bill' enables judges to authorise the seizure of journalists' notebooks and digital files in secret hearings.

That great British writer, George Orwell, would recognise all of this from his prescient novel, 1984. Orwell modelled his fictitious society on the Soviet Union when he penned his novel in 1948 but he was sounding a warning for his own country. It is a shame that the model for liberal, democratic society all over the world is now looking like the model for Airstrip One.

1 comment:

John Smith said...

It's no coincidence that the UK were the first to jump on the FATCA bandwagon.