Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Tomlinson: The Sad Truth


(Thanks to Karen.)

Monday, 20 April 2009

The Draper's Progress

Being a morality tale drawn from recent events in British politics.

Once upon a time there was a Draper.

After an infamous youth, where he was an Understatement to the Gang of Seventeen, the Draper went off to sea and to the Colonies.

The now reformed Draper returned some years later. Fashioning a Degree from a famous Colonial place of learning, the Draper came back to London.

He became a most notable Draper.

Indeed, he quickly became lionised by Society and by the Polity.

The Draper became a member of the Group of Six that met each Wednesday for Strategy and Forward Thoughts.

In particular, the Draper became a friend of the great but poisonous Master Brideson, the leading Intriguer though mysteriously aged only 34.

Buoyed by this success, the Draper began to write about drapery. First, he wrote his Handbook to the Art of Drapery.

But he also wrote an awful and unkind Commendation of Master Brideson's nasty note on the drapery of the wives of the Tory Toffs.

Sadly, this dire note, and the Draper's Commendation, fell into the hands of a most scurrilous Libertine with the gunpowder politics of the century before.

This Commendation caused upset and wailing with the cabal of Tory Toffs.

So the Draper was jostled in his shaky Seat of Political Influence.

And he was finally ejected from this treacherous Seat.

The Draper is now perhaps less popular in Polite Society.

Leaving him only with the bills from his Most Admirable Attorneys.

The End?

With profound apologies to William Hogarth.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Guido Fawkes and the Dogs of Law

In all the UK political drama of the last week regarding the publication of the McBride email, there is - for me - a curious incident of legal dogs not barking.

Strip out the personalities and sordid content, and consider the simple fact as of last Friday/Saturday.

The UK government undoubtedly knew that an email sent by a senior civil servant at 10 Downing Street to external persons was about to be published without permission.

Indeed, it may not have been clear at that point how the email had even been obtained: there could have been a criminal act or significant email security breach.

In normal circumstances I think there would have been a legal move to prevent publication.

The UK government must have considered whether an injunction could and should be obtained. This would have prevented publication of the email by UK newspapers, or the MSM making the email available to the public on their websites. Such an injunction would have been on an interim basis, pending full trial.

But no injunction was obtained, and it seems no injunction was applied for, or even threatened.

I emailed Guido to ask whether he was threatened with any injunction by the government. He confirmed to me that he was not.

So here I speculate as to why no injunction was obtained: why there was no bark from the dogs.

Was the government on notice?

First, one has to assume the government was on notice that the email was to be made public.

Guido tells us that he had alerted McBride in advance about the email. In any case McBride must have known what Guido's teasers and intentions were likely to amount to. Presumably McBride notified the senior civil service as to the potential unauthorised disclosure and publication of an email (or emails) from 10 Downing Street. Surely, by the eve of publication, McBride wouldn't have kept this from his employer...

Even if he did not, the (once admirable) Daily Telegraph's spoiler, on Saturday said that the government was by then alerted to the imminent publication (and, as Guido tells us, the Telegraph may have already tipped off 10 Downing Street). Indeed, McBride had "informed colleagues".

So last Friday/Saturday the government was undoubtedly faced with a stark decision: should a pre-publication injunction be sought? And as with any such question there are two key questions. Can an injunction be obtained? And should an injunction be obtained?

Copyright infringement or other breach of civil law

Guido tells us that he had taken Counsel's advice and that, as long as Guido did not get paid, there would not be any copyright issue.

Assuming that the copyright in the McBride email (though not the Draper reply) lay with the Crown, then - before 2000 - an injunction may have been possible on copyright grounds alone.

However, on 2 October 2000, the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force. This Act, witlessly derided by many current Conservatives, provided the real legal basis of the "public interest" which allowed Guido to avoid the issue of copyright infringement.

The key case was the one about Paddy Ashdown's diaries and the Daily Telegraph (back when it still did proper journalism) before the Court of Appeal: Ashdown v Telegraph Group [2001] EWCA Civ 1142. Paddy Ashdown wanted to prevent unauthorised publication of "minutes" regarding a possible coalition arrangement.

At paragraphs 58 and 59, the Court of Appeal held that:

"...the circumstances in which public interest may override copyright are not capable of precise categorisation or definition. Now that the Human Rights Act is in force, there is the clearest public interest in giving effect to the right of freedom of expression in those rare cases where this right trumps the rights conferred by the Copyright Act. In such circumstances, we consider that s.171(3)of the Act permits the defence of public interest to be raised.

"We do not consider that this conclusion will lead to a flood of cases where freedom of expression is invoked as a defence to a claim for breach of copyright. It will be very rare for the public interest to justify the copying of the form of a work to which copyright attaches. We would add that the implications of the Human Rights Act must always be considered where the discretionary relief of an injunction is sought, and this is true in the field of copyright quite apart from the ambit of the public interest defence under s.171(3)."

Section 171 of the Copyright etc Act had hitherto been a little-used residual provision. The Court of Appeal also stated that the HRA would also have an effect in allowing publication of copyrighted material for the purpose of fair dealing in reporting current news (the section 30(2) defence).

In Ashdown, however, the Court of Appeal held that the HRA supercharged the copyright exemptions so to allow publication of copyright material in the public interest. An important issue was whether the infringement was for commercial gain: hence the advice for Guido that he give the material for free.

On the facts of Ashdown, the newspaper had actually published more than was strictly necessary so as to meet the public interest point.

In respect of the McBride email, I think that only actual reproduction of the text of McBride's smears would have substantiated the news report. It was in the public interest to reproduce them. There was a public interest in copyright not applying.

If a systematic plan to make serious and false allegations against senior political opponents, using the machinery of 10 Downing Street, does not engage the public interest, it is difficult to see what does.

So, unless I have missed something else (and I confess there are many obscure elements of Crown copyright of which I may not be aware), it appears that Guido's Counsel advised in effect that the post-HRA copyright law would provide protection - at least for Guido - from a claim from the copyright owner either for an injunction or for recovery of Guido's "profit".

If this legal opinion is correct and the Ashdown principle applies, then other similarly-important government emails will presumably be fair game for publication, as long as there is no commercial gain.

(But do take legal advice first!)

Aside from copyright, there were other possible civil law bases for an injuntion - for example, confidentiality or even privacy/data protection, but each of these also have public interest defences, especially post-HRA.

As a result of the HRA, and on the particular facts of the McBride email, it seems to me that it would have been difficult for the UK government to have got an injunction on civil law grounds alone.

Criminal law and security breaches

Nonetheless, I do not think the lack of an injunction application was solely because the UK government anticipated the public interest defence for a copyright or other civil law claim.

Putting copyright and other civil law on one side, and indeed also putting aside the sordid content of the email, there was still a possible real and serious issue as to whether the email had been obtained by some criminal means or that there had been a serious email security breach. Such a circumstance by itself would usually have warranted an application for an urgent injunction, at least until it was clear how the email had actually been obtained.

The High Court is invariably deferent if the UK government seeks an injunction because of a security issue.

In the spoiler, the Daily Telegraph mentioned a "security scare" and that "[i]f the emails, which were originally sent to Derek Draper, a close friend of Lord Mandelson, who also runs an influential political blog, were obtained by a hitherto unidentified person hacking into the No.10 computer system or Mr Draper’s, the police could be called in to investigate. Mr Staines declined to tell The Daily Telegraph where they came from".

The mention of No 10's computer system was of course disingenuous by the "journalist" who wrote it, especially as he admits in the same article that a spokesman said that "[w]e are not aware of any security breach in the No 10 system".

The government did not seek an injunction on any security basis - the various legal grounds for the injunction could have ranged from the Computer Misuse Act to common law conspiracy.

One possible explanation for this inaction is that the government itself actually knew it had no criminal or security issue as to how the email was obtained by Guido.

It seems to me that had the government could probably have obtained an interim injunction against publication by the newspapers (if not Guido), had they really wanted to, if there was an arguable security concern, and this would not be affected by any copyright or similar point.

(In passing, I emailed the Law Officers' press office - they cover the Treasury Solicitor's department, who in turn conduct most government litigation - asking for any information about an injunction; but they would not comment on matters of legal advice.)

The practical decision not to injunct

Even if an injunction could have been obtained, having a legal right does not mean that it is always wise to exercise that right.

As the Spycatcher affair demonstrated, an injunction against unwelcome publication can be a hollow victory. This is more so in the days of the Internet.

An injunction against the mainstream media would not of course have prevented Guido posting it on his own site: and it would have been the email the government tried to ban.

And, even if an injunction could have been obtained in respect of publishing or making the available the actual email, that would not necessarily prevent any summaries of the email content even in the mainstream media.

Such summaries would have been at least as sensational even if repeating the actual words would have been prohibited.

The injunction may also not have covered publication of Draper's gormless reply.

So, it seems to me that the likely decision-making was that before actual publication, the government decided, absent a real security concern, not to make any legal move to prevent publication of the McBride email.

There was nothing realistic that could be done to avoid the damage about to be caused, and there was no real security concern to counterbalance such damage.

What I suspect happened in reality is that the person making the decision whether to obtain an injunction just looked at the awful email in question, and was disgusted.

And, as the essence of the story would break anyway, and in view of the immense and speedy legal effort which would be involved in obtaining interim injunctions against the UK newspapers, a decision was simply made to hang McBride out to dry and to - implicitly - permit the publication of a senior civil servant's email.

Absent the personalities and the sordid content of the email, I guess that this would normally be a rare concession by the government, even faced with the Ashdown caselaw.

So, if my speculations are correct, the UK government undoubtedly knew that an email sent by a senior civil servant at 10 Downing Street was about to be published without permission, and they knew also that an injunction was possible if either they had a security concern or the publication was to be more extensive than the public interest required.

However, I wonder whether just because of disgust at the email's content, and at it's author, they did nothing to stop publication.

There are limits to what even the dogs of law can bark at.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

On A Practical Proposal For Police Reform

Graeme Archer has produced an excellent post on UK police reform for ConservativeHome, based on actual examples, and with detailed and practical proposals for improvement.

Sadly, the shadow Home Office team will completely ignore it, leaving it to the Liberal Democrats (of all people, for grief's and pity's sake) to make the running on this crucial issue.

But at least the Tories won't sound weak on law and order.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

A must-read post from Gimpy on Derek Draper

There is a current political scandal in the the UK involving a political blogger and "psychotherapist" called Derek Draper.

Away from the main crisis, Gimpy has been doing some outstanding investigative blogging on Draper's professional credentials.

He now ties that excellent work to the current scandal, see here.

A must read.

Also see this highly thoughtful post on the same issue by Petra Boynton PhD.

What Nadine Dorries Should Ask Her Lawyers

Nadine Dorries, one of the Conservative MPs smeared by the UK civil servant Damian McBride, has announced she will be consulting her lawyers.

She is not someone I support politically (and indeed I strongly oppose on social liberal issues), but the clear nastiness of McBride is sickening in its cynicism.

Already she is receiving comments on her (excellent) Blog site from well-wishers seeking to explain libel law.

But I really do hope she asks her solicitors about the rare - but potent - tort of malicious falsehood. It appears to me, from the outside, that this is one of the few cases where it would be more appropriate than libel.

The reputation of Ms Dorries has perhaps not suffered - as no one believes the allegations - but it appears she has been a victim of a deliberate attempt to promote a falsehood - and by a civil servant in 10 Downing Street to external persons.

And malicious falsehood is what English common law can provide for in such circumstances. It may be that McBride's lawyers will try to take a point on there being no damage; but perhaps that could be left for the court to decide. Moreover, unless McBride undertakes not to repeat the malicious falsehood, there could always be injunctive relief. The tort is actionable for both actual and potential damage.

In my informal view, McBride may be well advised to seek to quickly settle any claim with an apology, costs, a formal admission that it was a malicious falsehood, an equally formal undertaking that it will not be repeated, and perhaps even a payment of damages either to Ms Dorries or a charity.

Furthermore, I am sure neither McBride nor the Crown would enjoy the formal "disclosure" exercise of relevant materials (formerly known as "discovery"). The very strict obligations on parties to civil litigation in respect of providing the other party with "deleted" emails and metadata - see Paragraph 2A.1 of the relevant court Practice Direction - will be a real shock to those who complacently knock back or craftily evade Freedom of Information and Data Protection requests.

In any case, the circumstances of McBride's smear would surely not be an attractive fact situation for McBride to wish to be before an English High Court prone both to developing media law alternatives to libel (such as privacy and confidentiality) and to robustly checking abuses of public power and public office.

*Substance of above post elaborated for sense after being listed as a link on ConservativeHome. Also see disclaimer on right: as always, this Blog is journalism and not legal advice*

Friday, 10 April 2009

On UK censorship, D-Notices, and why Bob Quick's resignation matters

The resignation of Bob Quick perhaps has significance in wider terms of freedom of speech and the media.

It appears that the "D-Notice" form of voluntary UK censorship was rendered ineffective.

Indeed, in my view, had the D-Notice system worked, we would never have known that Quick had even showed official secrets, let alone where, when, and how, the secrets had been disclosed.

And had we not known the details about his slip, he of course would not had to resign.

(If he actually "resigned" that is, as the current newsreports are vague as to the details. Other recent public sector workers who have "resigned" have tended to still be in post sometime afterwards, or they just lose a title and are switched elsewhere.)

D-Notices are semi-official and non-legal communications to media organisations that certain stories should not be published because of national security or similar considerations.

Interestingly, the D-Notice committee (the politically correct term is DA-Notice, as they are supposedly only advisory) has its own website here and one must note that the committee has representatives form new media, such as Google.

For general background on D-Notices, see here.

It appears from news reports that a D-Notice was issued following the Quick mistake, and it was respected by UK media organisations (as they invariably are), but a view was taken that the police operation needed to be accelerated anyway, as any threat of expected international communication and publication would be outside the scope of the D-Notice.

If this is correct, then it provides an example where UK domestic - and usually highly effective - censorship was rendered impotent in the age of the internet and of instant communication and publication on a global basis.

In passing, Bob Quick is no stranger to Jack of Kent. Back in December 2008, I expressed sympathy when he was turned over by the tabloid media, causing him to say silly things. I did add, however, that I had more sympathy for the poor innocent people Quick has (presumably) routinely turned over and then questioned during his successful career.

I again have sympathy for him, but similarly I have more sympathy for the poor junior staff and colleagues whose mistakes Quick has (presumably) exploited during his - until yesterday - successful career...

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Why did George Orwell call his novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four"?

The usual explanation for the choice of title of Nineteen Eighty-Four is that it was a play on the last two digits of 1948, the year the manuscript was finished.

This has never convinced me. I think there may be a better explanation, which comes from George Orwell's intellectual hostility to the Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton.

This post sets out this alternative explanation as to why Orwell did give his novel the title Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is culled from work I did some time ago when I was considering a higher degree. Although the coincidence on which it is based has been noticed before, I am not aware of any other attempt to assess the alternative explanation that I offer.

A choice of title

In autumn 1948, Orwell is uncertain as to the title of his new novel. He has two titles in mind, and he asks at least two people for their view. In a letter dated 22 October 1948, Orwell explains the dilemma to his literary agent:

“…I have not definitely decided on the title. I am inclined to call it either NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR or THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE, but I might just possibly think of something else in the next week or two.”

On the same day he also writes to his new publisher and makes the same unsure admission:

“…I haven’t definitely fixed on the title but I am hesitating between NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR and THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE.”

However, within a month, the first of these two titles appears to have stuck. At least other people had taken it up. In December 1948, the publisher had compiled a report on the novel, calling it “1984”, as did one of the professional readers.

By 17 January 1949, Orwell himself has clearly made his choice of title and was now discussing whether it should be entitled “1984” or “Nineteen Eighty-Four”.

The book was published later that year.

The conventional explanation

The conventional account is now almost an urban myth. Everybody knows it, so to speak.

This 1948 explanation, although widely adopted, is actually not that well attested. For example, I have not found it stated anywhere by Orwell or by anyone with whom he conversed.

So far, I have only been able to trace the 1948 explanation to an American publisher called Robert Giroux, who saw Nineteen Eighty-Four through the press for the US edition.

However, Orwell was not particularly close to Giroux, and there is no reason to believe that Giroux was privy to any special information about Nineteen Eighty-Four. Although there is some correspondence between Orwell and Giroux, I have not seen any mention in that correspondence of why the book had this title.

In passing, I note that Orwell complained that he did not like what Giroux was doing to the book in the US edition. Nor did he appreciate the unsolicited requests for writing blurbs.

An alternative explanation?

If the 1948 theory is possibly not correct, why did Orwell choose to set his dystopia in the year 1984? My alternative explanation brings us to G.K. Chesterton, an earlier and very different writer to Orwell.

Chesterton was, of course, the writer of the Father Brown stories, as well as a prolific poet and journalist. But it is one of his two famous novels (the other being The Man Who Was Thursday) with which I am concerned here: The Napoleon of Notting Hill.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill is a fantasy set in a future London. (As a fantasy writer, Chesterton has the deserved admiration of modern fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman.) The hero is Auberon Quin, a well-meaning eccentric who suddenly becomes King. The political context for all this is set out when the story begins:

VERY few words are needed to explain why London, a hundred years hence, will be very like it is now, or rather, since I must slip into a prophetic past, why London, when my story opens, was very like it was in those enviable days when I was still alive.

The reason can be stated in one sentence. The people had absolutely lost faith in revolutions. All revolutions are doctrinal...such as the French one, or the one that introduced Christianity.

For it stands to common sense that you cannot upset all existing things, customs, and compromises, unless you believe in something outside them, something positive and divine. Now, England, during this century, lost all belief in this. It believed in a thing called Evolution. And it said, "All theoretic changes have ended in blood and ennui. If we change, we must change slowly and safely, as the animals do. Nature's revolutions are the only successful ones. There has been no conservative reaction in favour of tails.”

And some things did change. Things that were not much thought of dropped out of sight. Things that had not often happened did not happen at all. Thus, for instance, the actual physical force ruling the country, the soldiers and police, grew smaller and smaller, and at last vanished almost to a point. The people combined could have swept the few policemen away in ten minutes: they did not,because they did not believe it would do them the least good. They had lost faith in revolutions.

Democracy was dead; for no one minded the governing class governing. England was now practically a despotism, but not an hereditary one. Some one in the official class was made King. No one cared how; no one cared who. He was merely an universal secretary.

In this manner it happened that everything in London was very quiet. That vague and somewhat depressed reliance upon things happening as they have always happened, which is with all Londoners a mood, had become an assumed condition. There was really no reason for any man doing anything but the thing he had done the day before.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill is, however, now more famous for its preface, entitled Introductory Remarks on the Art of Prophecy. Only a few hundred words long, it is a much-quoted source of Chestertonian wit. (It begins wonderfully with “THE human race, to which so many of my readers belong…”.)

The preface is not used to introduce the story but to undermine both modernist pretensions and radical predictions. Chesterton ridicules in turn H. G. Wells, Edward Carpenter (the early environmentalist), Leo Tolstoy, Cecil Rhodes, Benjamin Kidd ( a sociologist), W. T. Stead (a campaigning journalist), and Sidney Webb. In each instance their views are stated and then juxtaposed with an absurdly exaggerated view of an invented eccentric.

For example:

There was Mr. Sidney Webb, also, who said that the future would see a continuously increasing order and neatness in the life of the people, and his poor friend Fipps, who went mad and ran about the country with an axe, hacking branches off the trees whenever there were not the same number on both sides.

And so on. Chesterton then concludes the preface with a provocative challenge to every other forecaster or prophet. They would err as every such pundit had erred:

All these clever men were prophesying with every variety of ingenuity what would happen soon, and they all did it in the same way, by taking something they saw ‘going strong’, as the saying is, and carrying it as far as ever their imagination could stretch.


When the curtain goes up on this story, eighty years after the present date, London is almost exactly like what it is now.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill was published in 1904; the curtain therefore goes up in 1984.

Orwell and Chesterton

Orwell intellectually loathed GK Chesterton and other Catholic conservative writers.

If this aspect of Orwell’s thought is less appreciated today, it is perhaps because the debates changed. However, Orwell's criticism of the intellectual and moral dishonesty of Catholic conservatives was a common theme in Orwell’s journalism and other published writing, and he often bracketed Catholic conservatism and his other bugbear, Stalinism.

Indeed, one can often swap his comments on Stalinism and Catholic conservatism. They are almost invariably interchangeable.

Orwell wrote only one major political essay in 1945 (the year he started Nineteen Eighty-Four. This was Notes on Nationalism. This influential essay sets out how certain ideologies (or “nationalisms”) can undermine clear political and moral thinking. And only one writer or politician is examined in this context: Chesterton.

In the essay, Orwell introduces both Chesterton and his long held attitudes towards him:

Ten or twenty years ago, the form of nationalism most corresponding to Communism today was political Catholicism. Its most outstanding exponent - though he was perhaps an extreme case rather than a typical one - was G. K. Chesterton.

Orwell characterises Chesterton:

Chesterton was a master of considerable talent who chose to suppress both his sensibilities and his intellectual honesty in the cause of Roman Catholic propaganda.

And Chesterton’s method:

Every book that he wrote, every paragraph, every sentence, every incident in every story, every scrap of dialogue, had to demonstrate beyond possibility of mistake the superiority of the Catholic over the Protestant or the Pagan.

In a Tribune column in February 1944, Orwell specifically attacked Chesterton's assertions about change over time:

It is not very difficult to see that this idea is rooted in the fear of progress. If there is nothing new under the sun, if the past in some shape or another always returns, then the future when it comes will be something familiar.

Orwell continues by contrasting Chesterton's Catholic conservatism with his own democratic socialism:

At any rate what will never come - since it has never come before - is that hated, dreaded thing, a world of free and equal human beings.

Orwell and Catholic conservatism

Orwell's hostility to Chesterton has to be seen in the context of his disdain for other Catholic conservative writers. In a book review as early as 1932, Orwell is dissing Catholic writers:

Our English Catholic apologists are unrivalled masters of debate, but they are on their guard against saying anything genuinely informative.

Later, a central theme of Orwell's hostility towards ‘political Catholicism’ was its close relationship with Fascism. In 1944, he notes almost in passing,

Outside its own ranks, the Catholic Church is almost universally regarded as pro-Fascist, both objectively and subjectively.

And in a Tribune column of 1945,

The Catholics who said ‘Don’t offend Franco because it helps Hitler’ had more or less consciously helping Hitler for years beforehand.

Animosity towards ‘Catholic conservatism’ was perhaps most obvious in his weekly Tribune column. For example, two favourite straw-dollies were the right-wing, Roman Catholic journalists ‘Timothy Shy’ and ‘Beachcomber’. In 1944, Orwell warned readers that,

their general ‘line’ will be familiar to anyone who has read Chesterton and kindred writers. Its essential note is denigration of England and of Protestant countries generally.

And therefore,

It is a mistake to regard these two as comics pure and simple. Every word they write is intended as Catholic propaganda.

In a Tribune column in October 1944, Orwell discussed the writing and broadcasting of C.S. Lewis :

[I was] reading, a week or two ago, Mr C. S. Lewis’s recently-published book, Beyond Personality…The idea, of course, is to persuade the suspicious reader, or listener, that one can be a Christian and a ‘jolly good chap’ at the same time. I don’t imagine that the attempt would have much success…but Mr. Lewis’s vogue at this moment, the time allowed to him on the air and the exaggerated praise he has received, are bad symptoms and worth noticing…

A kind of book that has been endemic in England for quite sixty years is the silly-clever religious book, which goes on the principle not of threatening the unbeliever with Hell, but of showing him up as an illogical ass, incapable of clear thought and unaware that everything he says has been says has been refuted before. This school of literature started with W. H. Mallock’s New Republic, which must have been written about 1880, and it has a long line of practitioners - R. H. Benson, Chesterton, Father Knox, ‘Beachcomber’ and others, most of them Catholics, but some, like Dr Cyril Allington and (I suspect) Mr Lewis himself, Anglicans.

The line of attack is always the same. Every heresy has been uttered before (with the implication that it has been refuted before); and theology is only understood by theologians (with the implication that you should leave your thinking to the priests)…

One reason for the extravagant boosting that these people get in the press is that their political affiliations are invariably reactionary. Some of them were frank admirers of Fascism as long as it was safe to be so. That is why I draw attention to Mr C. S. Lewis and his chummy little wireless talks, of which no doubt there will be more. They are not really so unpolitical as they are meant to look

Most relevant for the purpose of connecting Orwell to The Napoleon of Notting Hill is his 1946 book review of The Democrat at the Supper Table, where Orwell forcefully attacks the author’s conservative politics and the sophistry of the novel’s central character:

Without actually imitating Chesterton, Mr. Brogan has obviously been influenced by him, and his central character has a Father Brown-like capacity for getting the better of an argument, and also for surrounding himself with fools and scoundrels whose function is to lead up to his wisecracks.

When a clergyman wrote to complain about the tone of Orwell's review, the reply elaborated on the initial attack:

Ever since W. H. Mallock’s ‘New Republic’ there has been a continuous stream of what one might call ‘clever Conservative’ books, opposing the current trend without being able to offer any viable programme in its place.

Orwell continued, appearing to have in mind the Preface to The Napoleon of Notting Hill:

If you look back twenty years, you will find people like Ronald Knox, Cyril Alington, Chesterton himself and his many followers, talking as though such things as Socialism, Industrialism, the theory of evolution, psycho-therapy, universal compulsory education, radio, aeroplanes and what-not could be simply laughed out of existence.

So did Orwell take the year 1984 from The Napoleon of Notting Hill?

Taking the stories as a whole it is not too much of a strain to see Nineteen Eighty-Four as a riposte to The Napoleon of Notting Hill. There are many points of comparison. Both books show that a belief in revolution that appears to have gone wrong, and both focus on the frustrations of a sympathetic central character as he attempts to challenge the prevailing system. Both are utopian/dystopian visions, containing prophecies extrapolated from current trends.

There are also many telling contrasts. The Napoleon of Notting Hill is written from the point of view of a Catholic populist and Nineteen Eighty-Four is by an almost secular social democrat.

It is, in many ways, a plausible explanation.

However, this alternative explanation has gaps.

For example, even though Orwell has a clear disdain for Chesterton and is antipathetic to the prophetic pretensions of Chesterton and other religious conservative writers, there is actually no direct evidence that Orwell either had read or even possessed The Napoleon of Notting Hill.

One feels he "must have done" as it is one of Chesteron's three best-known works and probably his most quoted, but one cannot invent convenient evidence. The best I can say is that it difficult to imagine Orwell committing his attacks in Notes on Nationalism without being aware of Chesterton's clearest and best known statement against "progress".

Subject to further research, the final position on the question must be inconclusive though fascinating.

However, the possibility that the title of Nineteen Eighty-Four was derived from The Napoleon of Notting Hill does allows us to explore an often overlooked part of Orwell’s political outlook: the deep hostility of a decent and progressive liberal to the intellectual and moral dishonesty of religious conservatives.



Below is the (rather laboured) conclusion to my original academic draft paper with the same title. So much work went into it, I think it surely deserves the light of day! :-) :

It is demonstrable that a literary preoccupation of Orwell in the mid-1940s becomes G. K. Chesterton, a writer whom he had always found fascinating and repulsive, and also associated writers. The relationship between Orwell and Chesterton has been often overlooked (and is sometimes - bizarrely - completely neglected); and there appears to still be no systematic study of Orwell’s attitudes towards writers, such as Chesterton, that he identified as being on the political Right. During this later period, Orwell's journalism and private writing demonstrated a deep and informed hostility towards the ‘Catholic conservatism’ of Chesterton and related writers. The failure by scholars to explore the possible significance of Chesterton's earlier use of that year is only partly because there is no major work on Orwell’s relations with the Right.

It cannot however be conclusively proved that the duplication of the date was deliberate, as Chesterton's novel is not amongst those known to be possessed or read by Orwell, even during the period of preoccupation with Chesterton’s thinking and prophecies.

On the balance of probability, Orwell at least read the Preface. Orwell often generalises confidently about Chesterton's (lack of) prophetic prowess and, in a 1944 Tribune column, there is perhaps a near paraphrase of Chesterton's famous preface to the novel. Moreover, Chesterton is often attacked, criticised, quoted and mentioned in passing, as well as being the main subject of the major 1945 essay.

Chesterton was for Orwell a powerful (if negative) influence. It is therefore arguable that Orwell at least read the famous Preface outlining Chesterton's prophetic claims. Even if this duplication of date (and setting) was a mere coincidence, it is nonetheless clear that Orwell was preoccupied with the figure of Chesterton as the exemplar of intellectual dishonesty during the conception and writing.

Indeed from around 1944 onwards, a clear theme in Orwell's writing is the re-emergence of his earlier opposition to the politics of Chesterton and related writers: the very array of attitudes that had helped Orwell towards a form of socialism in the early to mid 1930s.


References and citations available on request. I acknowedge use of copyrighted material. If such quotations are actually a substantial part of the original works, they are used for the non-commercial purpose of criticism of Orwell and Chesterton's works. Other exemptions may also apply. Please contact me at jackofkent [at]

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Death of Ian Tomlinson

In any society there can be a tipping point, the stage where those with power lose legitimacy. In the context of policing, this happened in Brixton and Handsworth in the early 1980s, and amongst the Catholics in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s.

The consequences are unpredictable, regardless of what any revolutionary theorist may pretend, and often unwelcome.

The death of Ian Tomlinson following the clear and horrific assault by a police officer at the G20 demonstration may also be such a tipping point. The attack was sickening, but it was not a real surprise to anyone who has ever watched the Police at public demonstrations.

I saw their wrongful use of force myself at the Countryside Alliance demonstration on 15th September 2004, where I went along out of curiosity after work (I was then a civil servant at a near-by department). That day, I actually witnessed police just lashing out at bystanders. It was surreal, and it was the moment when I lost respect for the police.

The police simply think they can get away with whatever they want. This is not an overstatement, for to a large extent they can. But they now have power without respect.

However, following the entirely correct outcry about the death of Mr Tomlinson, the police may now find that they no longer can get away with their habitual excessive and random force at public demonstrations.

The police may well find crowds less deferent and more confrontational at the next public demonstration. Some extremists would like this, just to see the police in fear and surrounded; but I would not. There is the need for police, and there is a need for certain norms of public order to be enforced.

So for their own protection as well as ours, the police really need to rethink their disgraceful and (in my view) unlawful behaviour at public demonstrations.

And the police officer who assaulted Mr Tomlinson should be named, arrested and prosecuted. If this is done, the Police may perhaps regain some legitimacy.

But I have a sinking feeling that this will not happen.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Why Jack of Kent Turned Left

In 1967, the increasingly disenchanted Kingsley Amis published the essay Why Lucky Jim Turned Right.

Lucky Jim, of course, was the title of his 1954 novel, perhaps one of the funniest in the English language.

The novel's hero, Jim Dixon, shares the prevailing vague pro-welfare state views of the time. However, by the late 1960s and 1970s, Amis was one of a number of hitherto leftist writers and pundits moving over to the Right. Others included Woodrow Wyatt, Paul Johnson, and - later - Brian Walden.

Many of these figures became Thatcherites rather than Tories; moreover most ceased to be socialist and became anti-socialist instead.

This post, however, is the story of my journey forty years later in the opposite direction.

By way of background, some personal history. I was brought up on council estates in a large English city. I attended not the city's famous grammar schools (I failed my "Eleven Plus" exam), but the same school as had my mother, aunt, and uncle, the generation before. By the 1980s, it was a huge "comprehensive" rather than a "secondary modern". Apart from my teachers, and the occasional doctor, I did not meet a graduate or a professional until I was about sixteen. Only two or so people in my year went to university.

Against this, the fact that my parents could buy a former council house transformed my family's fortunes at a stroke. Self-reliance was an attractive creed. The attraction of Thatcherism was re-enforced by the Right being clearly right on defence and nuclear weapons (I didn't then realise that many on the Left did not share the CND unworldliness).

So, by 16, I was insufferable. I even joined the Young Conservatives. Harry Enfield had not yet coined "Tory Boy" as a character, but I was his precursor.

As it was, I got dubbed instead after a less brilliant creation, Alan B'Stard.

And, to give the Conservative Party its due, they were kind and helpful in providing opportunities. By 18, I was working in the House of Commons as a researcher, in the very last year of Margaret Thatcher's premiership.

A little after, I was even turned down for a job at Conservative Central Office by the youthful and not yet charming David Cameron himself.

As I got older, I became less interested in party politics. I began to realise that to a large extent it didn't really matter which party was actually in control, certain public policy trends were as-good-as-inevitable. The Foreign Office would always press for closer European Union; the Home Office would always press for ID cards; and the Ministry of Defence would always press for BAe to get large contracts.

Only the combination of a crisis and a politician with an alternative policy agenda would ever break the relentless march of conventional thinking: Churchill on the failure of appeasement in 1940, or Thatcher with the collapse of postwar consensus in 1979.

I also realised that my own personal story of self-reliance, of getting "on my bike" to one of the world's greatest universities for an undergraduate degree, and then gaining various legal qualifications, was not a solid basis for a wider social policy. It became less significant to me that I had done any of that, and more significant that many with whom I went to school, and were no less intelligent, had not even thought about university and the professions, let alone tried and failed. I was an exception to a disappointing rule.

And so, for a range of reasons, I ceased to be an active party member, and indeed I have not been a member of the Conservative Party for over ten years.

I nonetheless continued to think of myself as right-of-centre. The main practical benefit of this was that I was able to tease the various earnest leftwingers I encountered. Sadly, irony (and indeed sometime humour) can be more common on the Right than on the Left.

But I justified being right of centre by calling myself a libertarian. As William Weld, a US politician, once said: keep the government out of one's wallet and out of one's bedroom.

My skepticism about the "State" seemed to apply evenly in both social and economic contexts.

On the social liberal side, I became more engaged with civil liberties and human rights. I began to see the priorities of personal privacy and then freedom of expression as the preferable bases for a properly and fairly constituted society.

But, whilst the economic liberalism was still there, I could still see myself as right-of-centre, notwithstanding the astonishing failures by Conservative politicians and pundits to "get" civil liberties and human rights. (Appealing to Magna Carta is not the stuff of practical politics: see here.)

And then came the Credit Crunch.

My faith in economic liberalism was extinguished (I wrote about it here).

Economic actors, left to themselves, do NOT by some "invisible hand" bring the greater good. On the contrary, economic actors left to their own devices will undermine capitalism itself. Adam Smith's dictum was now wrong. And the political Right will now be without a distinctive economic policy for a generation.

Now that the ballast which kept me (in my own view) right-of-centre had gone, I tipped steeply to the Left.

My objection to the hopelessness of the current UK government remains, but I find my criticisms premised on assumptions I associate with elements of the political Left rather than the Right: taking human rights and civil liberties seriously, distrusting both the market and the authoritarian state, endorsing non-selective and publicly-funded education, and a belief in the merits of diversity and general social improvement as goods in themselves.

I still value my time on the right-of-centre (as I saw it), and I will miss standing alongside pundits such as the brilliant Graeme Archer in promoting secularism and social liberalism to the right-of-centre.

But it is time for me to go.

And I hope I can cease being a Conservative without becoming an anti-Conservative.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

A Postcard from the G20 Demonstration

I went for a lunchtime walk today in the City of London; and I went to see the early stage of the G20 demonstration, disguised in my chalkstripe suit.

It is a warm sunny day. Every open office block has at least one security guard, often in yellow Hi-Vis tops. Most looked bored, but a couple had a clear "bring it on" manner. One short-ish guard in leather gloves was clearly up for it.

Outside Liverpool Street station, the crusty protesters were emerging, sometimes gaping at all the tall buildings.

Most of the shops were still open, sometimes with an anxious manager or two at the front door. In one McDonalds the managers handed the serviettes and straws to people as they left, protecting from harm the dispenser behind them. Other shops were closed or even boarded up. One expensive clothes shop had removed all its window displays.

I walked around freely until I got to the Bank of England. There, the drums were beating and whistles were being blown, the fabrics were bright and the faces earnest: all the carnival cliches of an English demo.

However, already the police had formed a cordon and I heard a protest that those inside were "trapped".

On Threadneedle Street, I saw the row of British Transport Police (I wonder what their arrest powers are away from train stations?) blocking the entire road clenching each others' belts. There really was no reason for such an aggressive posture, and of course it was stressing both the police and the protesters caught behind them; as always with "public order" the police were making things worse.

And it was still before one o'clock on this warm sunny day: one can see how good tempers may not survive much longer, let alone into the evening.

This is not the first anti-capitalist demonstration I have seen in the City. But it is of course the first one where it is clear that capitalism is already undermined by all the wallies and nasties at desks and in meeting rooms just yards away from the waving placards.

I wonder if any protester gave this commercial lawyer in a rumpled suit a second glance? In any case, my silent sympathy was with them.

And, before I got caught up in any cordon and forced to be civilised to some dim-witted police officer, I escaped back to my desk to listen to the sirens and helicoptors.