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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The kraken wakes

Despite its obvious potential for oppression, for the first twenty years or so of its existence the Malicious Communications Act 1988 did not seem to do much harm. At least, if it did, I did not read about it. If I am wrong on this, tell me, but on the few occasions that I heard about prosecutions under the Act they seemed to be cases like this one where a man sent out emails purporting to be from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in the aftermath of the 2005 tsunami falsely telling people that their relatives had been killed. That is certainly fraud, and something like assault, and I would argue that it is not a freedom of speech issue. “Malicious communication” seems a fair description.

You are not safe just because a monster sleeps. Circa 2006 the government rediscovered the Act and decided to give it some exercise. In the period 2006-2010 the number of people against whom proceedings were launched followed this pattern: 182, 251, 329, 507, 694.

The latest? Here is a story from the BBC: ‘Canterbury man arrested over burning poppy image’. He is not a Muslim apparently, and it is another reflection of the decline of free speech that my assumption that the BBC’s unnamed “Canterbury man” was left unnamed to conceal him being a Muslim was a perfectly reasonable one. In fact Linford House, 19, is a non-Muslim, white rugger bugger.

There is a good article by Ally Fogg in the Guardian: Arrested for poppy burning? Beware the tyranny of decency.

7 comments to The kraken wakes

  • Presumably if we outlaw poppy burning, the war on free speech and the war on drugs can be merged. There might be some efficiency gains in that, if nothing else. Or is it only the Chinese who are that whacky.

  • Laird

    An interesting case and article. Ms. Fogg’s central point seems to be “The new tyrant is not an oligarch or a chief of secret police, but an amorphous, self-righteous tide of populist opinion that demands conformity to a strict set of moral values. What we are seeing has less to do with the iron heel than with the pitchfork.” On its face that seems correct, but I’m not sure it’s the whole story.

    That “self-righteous tide of populist opinion” may provide the opportunity for the government to expand the definition of criminal speech, but if that opportunity weren’t seized by venial politicians and bureaucrats it wouldn’t amount to much; protest against unpopular private opinion has always been with us, and inevitably blows over. But seizure of that opportunity is very much in the interest of said politicians and bureaucrats, who are always on the prowl for means of enhancing their authority and power. So while I abhor puritanism and fundamentalism of every stripe, I don’t think this expansion of the MCA is so much an example of the political class pandering to popular sentiment, or “because they themselves fear the anger of the mob”, as it is their opportunistically utilizing that sentiment for their own ends.

  • john in cheshire

    When did we lose the ability to shake our head, tut, think ‘what a fool’, and then ignore? On the contrary we seem to want everyone to be punished for everything. In doing so, we have a situation where individual fools are stomped on and real threats to our collective national health are ignored, if not actually encouraged.

  • Stephen Willmer

    In our sanctimonious glow of supposed decency, we are a mean-spirited, vicious and dismal populace, occasionally redeemed by wit and even more occasionally by common sense. One of my proudest moments as a Londoner was watching David Blaine, starving himself in a glass box, being offered hamburgers by cheeky citizens.

  • Cloid

    Fogg says what is being punished here “is a refusal to conform to a tabloid-esque, lowest common denominator of decency”. He could have added that in many cases it a also a refusal to conform to the PC standards that the likes of The Guardian have set.

  • RAB

    The Daily Fail runs little opinion polls every day on the trending topics of the day. 57% of online readers think it perfectly ok to arrest the twat for this. The Court of Outraged public opinion eh?

    Between this and “Offensive words and behavior” in the Public order Act, they can screw us for practically anything they like, or rather dislike.

    This will all change on thursday when we get elected Police Chiefs though won’t it? Yes, it will get even worse!

  • Paul Marks

    This was part of what greeted me on my return to the U.K.

    In the free newspapers left on the train (and the semi free “I” also owed by the KGB man).

    Incomming Arch Bishop of C. demands government regulations making banks lend to people of certain types and in certain areas (the American regulations making banks do this had such good results leading up to 2008…….)

    loads of anti corporate propaganda (in newspapers that depend on adverts from corporations – you work it out, I can not).

    An SAS hero sent to prison for 18 months (i.e. a jury must have convicted him – as a magistrate can “only” send someone to prison for six months) for the “crime” of owning a pistol.

    And this – someone arrested for buring a small bit of paper in their own home.

    “But the principle Paul”.

    The principle is FREE SPEECH – as Natalie makes plain.

    I had not been back in this country for long – just long enough to look at discarded newspapers in the small hours on the train from the airport, and I already had to fight my gag reflex.

    Otherwise the staff would have that yet another drunk had thrown up on the late night train.