The Rotten State We’re In

To paraphrase Shakespeare, something is rotten in the state of Britain. Of course, this is nothing new, but a number of recent events have brought this rottenness to the fore. As the world economy plummets deeper into crisis, as manifested by the collapse of the US sub-prime mortgage market and its Northern Rock spin-off in Britain, this is also reflected in growing corruption and repression at the heart of the state.

Killing With Impunity

No-one denies that Islamic jihadist perpetrated terrorism poses a threat in Britain, albeit a threat exacerbated by the vicious and stupid actions of the British state in the Middle East. However, this threat is massively exaggerated to justify ever increasing state repression. One victim of this was the Brazilian electrician Jean Charles De Menezes, gunned down by the Metropolitan Police at Stockwell tube station for the crime of bearing a passing resemblance to a terror suspect. Even London’s finest are not beyond democratic accountability, as was subsequently established by the bizarre prosecution against the Met brought under the Health and Safety Act; as if the cold blooded killing of an innocent man was no more significant than leaving an unattended toolbox in a walkway. The main reason for this was that, whatever the outcome of the trial, there would be no likelihood of jailing the culprits. An Old Bailey jury found the Metropolitan Police guilty of breach of heath and safety laws and fined them £175 000, as well as ordering them to pay £385 000 in costs. Perhaps not surprisingly, the judge commented that no individual officer was to blame, but identified corporate failings. This was followed only days later by the publication of the Independent Police Complaints Commission report, Stockwell 1, which identified 14 serious failures that led to the Brazilian’s death. Yet Metropolitan Police Commissioner and New Labour placeman, Sir Ian Blair, has neither been dismissed or, so far, felt any compulsion to resign, despite presiding over a force that is clearly out of control. The implication is that, ultimately, the police can kill innocent people with impunity, particularly if they can argue that they were under pressure because of a serious terrorist threat or incident. The only difference between Britain’s so-called “liberal democracy” and a Third-World dictatorship is that, here, there is some scrutiny of the police, but the value of that scrutiny must be questionable if it still allows the police to literally get away with murder.

Detention Without Charge

The death of de Menezes must be seen in context of the increasingly repressive nature of the state under the pretext of 9/11 and the London bombings of July 2005. Since 7/7, the Labour government has been obsessed with increasing the length of detention without charge for those alleged to be terrorist suspects (1). Under Tony Blair’s regime the limit was increased to 28 days. Now, even though only 11 people have been detained up to 28 days, this limit is apparently inadequate; the complexity of international terrorist networks being the oft quoted justification for this. The argument has now been renewed under the Brown regime which is seeking to double the period of detention without charge to 58 days. Like Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, the requirement for a 58 day detention period is another big lie. No other vaguely “democratic” state in the world lawfully permits detention without charge for anything like 28 days, let alone 58 days. In France it is 6 days, Spain 5 days and the in the USA 2 days, for US nationals, although it can be a lot longer if you end up in Guantanamo Bay. Even such bastions of civil liberties and human rights as Russia and Turkey have maximum detention periods of 5 days and 7 days respectively. The government’s own chief security minister Lord Admiral Alan West “remained to be convinced” of the need for an extension, at least until 45 minutes later when, after a meeting with Gordon Brown, the noble Lord became convinced that an extension was necessary. Embarrassingly for Brown, the ex Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, (the one who was leant on by Blair to advise that the invasion of Iraq was legal) is expected to advise a parliamentary committee that no further extension is needed. So why are the British so keen to have the most draconian powers of detention in the “civilised” world? Mainly it is a question of maintaining a climate of fear of terrorism and in order to distract attention away from the profound social problems and economic difficulties, which are set to get a whole lot worse in the coming months. Mindful of this, the government can also use the cover of the terrorist threat to ratchet up the State’s powers in the event of more generalised civil unrest and class struggle that may be generated by a worsening economic situation. Ultimately it is likely that ordinary workers, rather than Moslem terrorists, will fill the gaols under these powers.

Their Terrorist Friends

No doubt Gordon Brown is envious of the absolute powers wielded by his good friend and ally, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia who was recently in London for a state visit. Unlike Mr Brown, His Majesty does not have to argue about how long suspects can be detained for, because they can be detained for as long as he likes. Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive regimes in the world where torture and summary execution are commonplace and where women’s rights is a contradiction in terms. The country has one of the highest rates of capital punishment in the world, both per capita, and in absolute terms, which is particularly shocking given the relatively small size of the population. Public beheadings are frequent, often for relatively minor offences, which are deemed to be in breach of Islamic values. Seemingly, Prime Minister Brown thinks all this is perfectly acceptable, as he is reported not to have raised human rights issues during his meeting with the Saudi monarch. One can only shudder to think what British Foreign Minister Kim Howells meant when he talked about “shared values” with the Saudis. Perhaps he meant the value of Britain’s exports to the Kingdom, worth £4.4 billion in 2006, and increasing by 12% in the first half of this year. Or maybe he meant the value of Saudi oil exports to the UK estimated at $2.6 billion. It was also in the interests of shared values that earlier this year the British state called off its fraud investigation against BAe Systems and its arms dealings in Saudi Arabia, to the mutual benefit of BAe and the sheikhs at the heart of the Saudi state who had received massive kick-backs. And, of course, there are shared values against terrorist states such as Iran, notwithstanding that Saudi-backed Wahabi Moslems have been supplying literature to British mosques advocating violent jihad, the murdering of gays and the stoning of adulterers. The Saudi Royal visit has revealed the hypocrisy and cynicism of the British state on a scale not often seen.

Immigrants are not the Issue

On the issue of hypocrisy, the subject of immigration can never be far away. In recent months, all the major political parties of the British bourgeoisie have decided that we need an “honest debate” about immigration. What this means is that for public consumption there must be a debate about how to restrict immigrants coming to the UK despite emigration being at record levels. The debate is always framed in terms of ‘uncontrolled immigration’ yet the UK immigration rules are some of the strictest in the western world. The pro-immigration politicians tell us that immigration is a good thing because it promotes cultural diversity and fills jobs that “we British” don’t want to do. What they don’t say is that immigration of suitably skilled workers from poorer countries is good for capitalism because it keeps down wages, particularly where illegal entrants are employed. But even legal workers from the new EU countries such as Poland are often employed illegally at rates below the paltry minimum wage (2). Furthermore the British bourgeoisie gain the skills of workers who have cost nothing to educate and train, and who they hope will return to their home countries when they are no longer required, rather than presenting a claim on the UK welfare benefits system. This is precisely why Butcher Brown told the TUC Conference in September that he wanted “British jobs for British workers”, having already decreed wage cuts for half the workforce in Britain through his public sector pay policy. By focussing on “the immigrant debate” in this way the politicians aim to drive a wedge between British and immigrant workers. There is no doubt that immigration has put some British workers out of a job as bosses have ruthlessly tried to cut wages, but the solution is not to turn against immigrant workers. In a sense all workers are migrants, used and disposed of by the capitalist class. Our exploitation knows no frontiers. We are a world class, globally exploited and our one strength is our collective unity. It is this common ground that must be consciously turned against the attacks of capital to destroy not only the rotten corrupt and increasingly repressive state in Britain but over the entire class. We really do have ”a world to win”.


(1) See “Anti-Terrorism - Smokescreen for State Repression” in Revolutionary Perspectives 38 and “Terrorism in the UK - the Plot Thickens” in Revolutionary Perspectives 40.

(2) See “Immigration and Global Capitalism” in Revolutionary Perspectives 39.

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