The Ministry Of Truth

This post isn’t about the absurdity of religious belief, but an absurdity of a different  sort: the right to privacy versus a government agency’s insistence that others can access your data. 

Imagine, if you will, that you’re on the committee of a small local charity. Imagine too that a local government official makes a false, though serious allegation about your charity in a public meeting. Imagine that the public body in question declines to address your concern. You are left then with no option but to make a complaint about it.

Imagine that in retaliation the official in question makes a data protection request (otherwise known as a SAR: ‘Subject Access Request’) to your charity, demanding that it surrender any personal data it has stored about him. The charity responds, as required by law, that it holds no data about the official.

Imagine that the official is dissatisfied with this honest answer, and reports the charity to a government body known as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) who, like the anti-free speech body they are, start emailing the charity insisting it hands over any personal data they have about the official.

The charity advises the ICO, as they have already advised the official, that they hold no personal data about him. Now Imagine this is not good enough for the ICO, which redefines personal data as any mention of an individual, however oblique, by which he or she might be merely identified.

They continue to demand that the charity provide material (that it doesn’t have) to the official, whom they take to referring to as its ‘customer’; another redefinition when the official is in no sense a ‘customer’ of the charity’s. The ICO nonetheless insists that it ‘appears’ to the official that he might be mentioned in the charity’s committee minutes. This, they say, constitutes ‘personal data’ according to their extremely broad definition of the term.

In fact, the charity’s minutes do not mention the individual by name at all and do not disclose any personal information about him. The minutes do, however, include confidential material completely unrelated to the official. As a result, the charity declines to release the minutes to either party and advises the ICO that it is overextending its powers in insisting the charity ‘must’ do this.

The charity could of course have made public other information about the official, such as his being sanctioned four times recently for remarks made about his colleagues or his current homophobic and anti-immigrant tweets made under his official title (which I won’t mention here for fear of his being identified). But it doesn’t, because it does not store such information.  It is readily accessible online.

Now that you’ve imagined all that, consider the issue at stake in the scenario. How far are government bodies able to monitor and demand access, either for themselves or third parties, the discussions others might have about matters of legitimate and immediate concern to them. The law suggests not at all. The ICO seems to think differently. The charity is only able to free itself from the ICO’s demands by informing them that, if required to investigate the matter further, it will, as the law allows, make a charge for doing so. The ICO is never heard from again. 

All of which suggests The Ministry of Truth is alive and well in 21st century Britain. It is Nineteen Eighty Four and Big Brother is upon us.


Update: Now the UK government is demanding WhatsApp remove its end-to-end encryption from personal messages sent on the platform. This means ordinary, law-abiding people will lose their personal security and privacy, all in the name of some nebulous ‘national security’. The government and police will be able, should they feel the need, to access everyone’s messages.

As if terrorists and paedophiles use WhatsApp in the first place. 

The More Things Change…

This year it’s Black Lives Matter. Last year it was Extinction Rebellion. Before that #MeToo, GM crops and gun control. Every year it seems there’s a new cause for us to take to the streets, or, if we can’t be bothered doing that, to social media where we can make our feelings known. Of course, the common people – you and I – have a voice. We have greater means of expressing it, more platforms on which to exercise it, than have ever existed before. No-one in history has had the means we have to express our outrage, opinions and grievances.

But so what? Whether we take to the streets, vlog, blog or tweet, the result, it seems to me, is the same: things stay pretty much as they are. Hardly anything changes as the result of our outcry and protest. Maybe a few statues are demolished, a handful of sexual predators jailed, but ultimately there’s no lasting change. Perhaps a tokenistic law is created, maybe the media involve themselves for a short time in the issue of the day, but before very long everything reverts to the way it was: black lives are no more improved, the police go back to their former ways of behaving (once no-one’s looking any more), children continue to be abused, the environment is still in crisis, there’s another mass shooting by an idiot who’s bought a gun too easily and politicians carry on acting as if they’re above the law. There’ll be a new cause to excite ourselves about next summer. And another the year after that. Today’s preoccupation will disappear just as quickly as the latest fashion or pop sensation.

Why is this, and  why are we largely ignored when we take to the streets or campaign on social media about the things that concern us? Why does our voice count for so little? We live in democracies don’t we, here in Europe and in the States; we have a right to be heard, to be listened to and be taken into account – don’t we?

Well, no. We don’t. No-one is obliged to listen to us. They don’t even have to pretend to, unless they’re politicians running for election and then they are only pretending. Even then we don’t really have the choice we think we do; we’re told we can vote for the candidate of our choice, but we can’t; choice is so severely restricted it’s hardly qualifies as a choice at all. We vote for whoever the parties have put up for us to vote for; for a package that dresses either to the left or the right, without nuance or balanced consideration of the issues, and very often with no long term view of what we need to survive and flourish. That’s why so many fail to vote; they know intuitively that the more things change, the more they stay the same – so why bother?


The rest of us dutifully select from an already selected few: the millionaires, billionaires, career politicians and failed businessmen who claim they have our best interests at heart, who say they can manage us and make our country great again. Once they have power they forget about us – their lives are so far removed from ours that they can’t possibly relate to the way we ordinary people live – and what the most vocal of us say we want. We think we won’t get fooled again, as the Who say in their politically astute song, but of course we will: we are fooled again, and again and again. Every time.

To be continued.

Swing Low

This is my response to the way some in the UK have jumped on the bandwagon of the Black Lives Matter movement. I appreciate it is different in the USA.


‘So it’s important we get out on the street and bring down the last vestiges of colonialism.’

‘Right. So how do we do that?’

‘We tear down the effigies of those who made their fortunes on the backs of black people. Colston in Bristol, Nelson’s Column, Earl Grey in Newcastle…’

‘I didn’t know Earl Grey owned slaves.’

‘Well, no, he didn’t. But he did fund a port in London somewhere and that port was used to bring in cotton. And who was forced to grow the cotton? Slaves!’

‘I see. Yet I think you’ll find it was Earl Grey’s government that abolished slavery in the British Empire, back in the 1830s.’

‘Was it? I didn’t know that.’

‘Obviously not. I agree, of course, that we shouldn’t be celebrating anyone who was involved in the slave trade, but how is vandalising statues going to improve the lives of black people today?’

‘It shows that we stand with them. It shows we disinherit our racist past, founded as it was on the exploitation of black people; on slavery.’

‘So you won’t be using sugar any more, or visiting the Tate? You won’t be drinking at a Greene King pub? Or driving your Mercedes and reading your Guardian newspaper?

‘I don’t see what that has to do with anything.’

‘No, you wouldn’t. Don’t you think Black Lives Matter, which, might I remind you, is an American movement, has been hijacked here in the UK by well meaning, largely middle-class white people with little understanding of the past? That smashing statues, boycotting Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – written, incidentally, by one-time negro slave – and anachronistically slotting people of colour into films and TV dramas, is really going to improve the lives of black people in this country today? If you do, you’re seriously deluded. We’re not a salve for your white conscience.’

‘Look, I’m no racist, you know that, but you just don’t have any understanding of what’s at stake here. Thank God there are white people like me to look after your interests. Now are you coming to this protest or what?’


Trust the Experts


Following Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, a meme has surfaced suggesting that ordinary people have taken to rejecting and ignoring experts; that we no longer trust or respect them and have taken decisions, which in the past they would have made for us, into our own hands (with, the implication is, disastrous results).

If only our experts were experts in the field they profess to be experts in. The views and advice we reject are very often not those of the knowledgeable at all, but merely of those who claim to be experts.

In democracies, ministers and government administrators are, to give them the benefit of the doubt, experts in a given area – frequently in UK government in economics and politics itself – but are, on election, often appointed to a position outside this area of expertise. The current Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, for example, has no health related qualifications; his degree is in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Being generous, we might say that he is an expert in these areas, but, he has no expertise whatsoever in the field of health, healthcare, the management of hospitals nor even the management of people. There are those who rightly point out that in these areas, he really hasn’t much of a clue. Yet, as Secretary of State for Health, he manages the entire NHS in England and Wales. Was there really no-one who could make a better job of it than Mr Hunt – an expert, say? Was Hunt any more of an expert in Culture, the post he held before being shunted into Health by David Cameron (another ‘expert’ – in Media Communications – who had no experience, let alone expertise, of managing the Health service)?

Similarly, Justine Greening, the current Education secretary – who has previously been Economic secretary, Transport secretary and secretary for International Development – is an economist and accountant. She is not an expert in Education, nor was she for all of her previous responsibilities. Then there’s Lynn Truss, Secretary of State for Justice (an economist), Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport (historian), Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (degree in maths), Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary (classics), Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (political science), Michael Fallon, Secretary of State for Defence (classics & ancient history) and Theresa May (geography).

And it isn’t just in the UK; the appointment of similarly non-expert experts is taking place right now under Donald Trump – himself an expert in what? – in the USA. Granted that in the UK government, there are some ministers whose qualifications bear some resemblance to the posts they hold (Philip Hammond, Sajid David) but why do we, the electorate, tolerate the deplorable mismatch of others? Ministers do, of course, have civil servants to advise them on their roles, but these are unelected, unknown bureaucrats and who is to say whether their expertise lies within the fields on which they’re advising?

It is no wonder the populace seems to have lost faith in experts. It is because too many of them are not. When I’m ill, I call the doctor not an accountant. When I’m concerned about the environment, I listen to a climate change expert not a political scientist. If I’m seeking justice, I appeal to the courts system, not the banking sector. Why don’t government appointments work like this? Why are we managed by people who have no expertise and, in many cases, no experience in the field in which they present themselves as the ultimate expert? And why are we expected to trust them, to follow their advice and believe in their promises and plans? Most of the time they don’t, quite literally, have much idea of what they’re taking about, and when they’ve got themselves and the service they’re supposedly overseeing into a mess, they’re moved on in a cabinet reshuffle, to another post they don’t know very much about.

It’s difficult to see how things could be any different with the system the way it is, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. If it’s the system that needs to change, then it should. It isn’t too much to ask of those who govern us that they have some expertise in the areas for which they accept responsibility.

And what has this to do with religion, you may ask? Be assured it has. Next time.

A Digression

TonyBA man who can’t always remember the name of the record he’s just played has been sacked by the BBC for being unable to demonstrate total recall of an event that occurred forty-five years ago. The moral of the Tony Blackburn debacle is not to grow old nor lose your whatsitsname.

As usual, the last to be considered by the BBC is the listener, the licence payer who has enjoyed listening to Mr Blackburn present Pick of the Pops every Saturday for the last five years. That’s 2.1 million of us.

Do we care whether he can remember a meeting almost half a century ago? No, we don’t. Do we want to continue to derive pleasure from hearing him on Radio 2? Yes, we do. BBC director-general Tony Hall’s cavalier attitude, towards listeners as well as Mr Blackburn, now means we can’t.

I’ve signed my last petition and written my last letter in support of the BBC. The Corporation couldn’t care less about me and at least 2,099,999 other listeners. Maybe it is time it was taken down a peg or two.

Listen to the last few Pick of the Pops Tony Blackburn presented, here, while you can.

In Support Of Cliff Richard

CliffThis post takes a little diversion from the usual topics…

Suddenly, after their failure over many years to detect and prosecute Jimmy Savile for his serial abuse of others, the police have taken to investigating historical claims of sex abuse with a vengeance. Now, with each new celebrity accused of assault, a peculiarly public pillorying takes place. An allegation from twenty, thirty, forty years ago is not only listened to but broadcast far and wide.

It’s true that some of these accusations have led to convictions – Rolf Harris, Max Clifford, Stuart Hall – because it turned out there was evidence or a consensus of voices that served as corroborative evidence. But equally there have been arrests for activities which aren’t even illegal – Jim Davidson’s threesome with two other consenting adults, for example – and witnesses who are forced unwillingly to provide evidence, as in the Nigel Evans’ case.

Then there are isolated allegations which come with no corroborative evidence, just, perhaps, a date and a location, which are not evidence at all but merely part of the accusation.

Very quickly afterwards, the individual making the allegation is turned – by the police, the media and the CPS – into a ‘victim’, often on no other basis than the uncorroborated accusation. An accuser is not, however, a victim, and the accused is not a perpetrator, unless the courts decide he or she is. Moreover, the accuser has the privilege of remaining anonymous, while the accused celebrity, even if there’s no court case or even an arrest, has their reputation sullied as soon the allegation is made public. Trial by media invariably follows and the accused is seen as guilty by association, because, as we all know, there’s no smoke without fire. (Unless you’re a 1980s politician – in which case the ‘historic’ nature of the supposed offences is sufficient to ensure a prosecution is replaced with an enquiry that won’t report for months, if not years – or a member of the Catholic clergy who, for the most part, have also abused with impunity.)

The latest celebrity to be the focus of police interest is, it can’t have escaped your attention, Cliff Richard. Somehow the singer is expected to demonstrate that he did not sexually assault an under-age ‘boy’ – we haven’t been told his actual age – at a Billy Graham rally on a given date nearly thirty years ago. I don’t know about you but, even though it was my tenth wedding anniversary, I can’t remember a single thing I did on 28th June 1985. And I certainly couldn’t demonstrate it wasn’t something criminal. It wasn’t, but I can’t prove it, because it’s impossible to prove a negative. Could you, if you were accused of it, demonstrate satisfactorily that you didn’t indulge in, and get away with, a little light shoplifting on that date? No, you couldn’t. How then can Cliff Richard prove he didn’t do what he has been accused of doing? He can’t. All he has is denial and his hitherto unblemished character and integrity. While I don’t share his religious views, Cliff is also devout; his faith determines how he lives his life in a way that honours the God he believes in. On this basis, it is hard to imagine him doing anything like the crime he has been accused of. And unless it can be proven he did, then he most emphatically did not.

This is not enough for the police, of course, who have made their investigation of the star a very public affair in the hope that ‘others will come forward’ and make similar accusations. They can then claim they have their corroboration. So far, despite saying they have received ‘many’ calls related to their enquiry, they have not confirmed they have any such corroboration. You can bet your life they would if they had.

The fact the police don’t operate in this manner in any other context should immediately alarm us. Yes, they normally seek witnesses for incidents – an alleged physical attack, say – but what they don’t do is broadcast the names of those involved so that other people might ‘come forward’ with stories about entirely different incidents. So why do they regard it as legitimate to operate like this when a celebrity is accused of sexual impropriety? And why are they allowed to? The goodly folks of 17th century Salem, not to mention Senator McCarthy, would surely approve.

Ah, but what about the victim, I hear you ask. As I’ve already explained, without evidence or corroboration there is no victim. There is only an accuser and an accuser is not the same as a victim. In the States, the statute of limitations restricts the time after an event when legal proceedings may be initiated. For sexual offences, this limit varies according to the nature of the alleged offence and from state to state but it is generally in the region of ten years. This prevents the flood of historical accusations that we have seen in the UK following Savile’s death. I am not advocating that real victims, like those we have seen in some of the other cases, be disregarded, but that there must come a time after which allegations can no longer be made, or if made, acted upon. There is precedence: rightly or wrongly, those suspected of ‘historical’ bombing campaigns in Northern Ireland, bombings that destroyed lives, can no longer be prosecuted. Such a statute would prevent innocent individuals like Cliff Richard (and he is innocent until proven otherwise) from enduring uncorroborated accusation, the sullying of reputation and unnecessary public approbation.

Meanwhile, I plan to get out my Cliff Richard CDs to listen to them until the hounding of the singer is called off, and the police are called to account for the unreasonable way they have handled the sole allegation against him. I hope you’ll be doing the same.



‘Ere, Sarge – another of those reports about wide-scale child abuse on our patch.

Just put it with the others, son. We’ll shred them all later.

Shouldn’t we do something, Sarge?

No son, that’s not the way it works. We’re going after a celebrity instead.

A celebrity? You mean that famous singer?

Yes, son. That’s the one.

But we’ve no evidence he’s done anything, Sarge.

And when has that ever stopped us before?