18 April 2019
Justice For All
A choice of three.
By J R Thomas
Three interesting people were in the news last week and if this was a TV quiz show, Magnus Magnusson or Jeremy Paxman would doubtless ask a sweating contestant who was the odd one out. But this is the Shaw Sheet, and you will have to wait to the end for the catch question, and we may not even tell you the answer. But the events give an interesting insight into modern Britain.
First up was the dismissal of Professor Sir Roger Scruton as chairperson of the “Building Better, Building Beautiful” Commission (yes, yes, it really is called that). Sir Roger is a distinguished philosopher, thinker, writer, and of all things, a Conservative. Indeed, so far as the Conservative Party has any remaining intellectual heart, Sir Roger is it. The Professor could probably not be described as politically correct – he values free speech too much for that – but he is a civilised and thoughtful man, who is neither yob nor slob. If he says something, he has thought about what he is saying, it will not be aggressive or vile, and it will be capable of detailed and deeply argued intellectual justification.
His appointment to head the BS,BB Commission seemed a stroke of genius from a government which has largely favoured of any range of approaches, the one most banal and uncontroversial. James Brokenshire, the Housing Minister, wanted Sir R to look at design in the context of new housing, Scruton’s argument being that much opposition to building, whether in urban environments or in the countryside, comes from the very poor aesthetic presentation and low quality of what gets built; reflecting only too well that much housing is built cheaply and without thought as to its utility or its beauty. Labour did not like the idea of a Tory, and a lateral thinking Tory at that, heading up something to do with housing (or indeed anything else), and the house building industry was not very happy either. But the professor just quietly knuckled down and got on with the job. Until last week, when Mr Brokenshire sacked him.
So what had Sir Roger done? Advocated pvc windows, or concrete slab backyards, or avocado bathroom suites? No, none of that, nothing to do with the job at all. He had given an interview to the New Statesman (to which he was formerly wine correspondent) in which he self-exposed himself as anti-Semitic by criticism of George Soros and his attempts to influence political events in Hungary. He added to this outrage by saying that the Chinese were becoming robotic, and that Islamaphobia had been invented by the Muslim Brotherhood to try to stop discussion of Islam and its influence in the world. Outrageous and a sackable offence – several sackable offences. So Mr Brokenshire sacked him forthwith. A wiser minister, or indeed one who had taken even a smidgen of legal advice, might have not been quite so forthwith. For it turns out that the New Statesman had done some rather heavy handed editing (the alternative is that they did some very skilled editing to try and bring the nasty Tory Sir Roger down; it obviously could not be that). Professor Scruton did not say any of these things, at least in the way the New Statesman suggested. He had discussed them, very much along the lines that many others are doing; to wit: the tendency of Mr Soros, an American citizen, to use his billions to influence other countries’ politics; the nervousness around any discussion of Islam and particularly its more violent manifestations; the increasingly authoritarian nature of the Chinese government and the consequent oppression of its citizens; and nary a word which suggests any anti-Semitism.
How embarrassed and mortified the Statesman sub-editor must be at his clumsiness. And Mr Brokenshire? Embarrassed, mortified, apologetic, one assumes? Maybe. As he is silent on the issue, we don’t know.
Our next musing is over the recent events at the Embassy of Ecuador. The media last week carried film of the Metropolitan Police entering the embassy (at the invitation of the Ambassador of that beautiful country, we hasten to add, or there would be a major diplomatic headache for Mrs May on the brew), and removing a hairy middle-aged man who very much did not want to leave. On closer examination this was none other than Mr Julian Assange, scourge of secrecy and stiflement of free speech everywhere. Mr Assange has been holed up in political asylum in the embassy for seven years, and has become an increasingly unwelcome (and according to the Foreign Minister of Ecuador, dirty and smelly) guest. Mr A. claims to be seeking refuge from the attempts of the USA government to extradite him for defending free speech. The US government say that they would indeed like to talk to him but about the theft of passwords and the breaching of secure computer firewalls, and also would be interested in his role in the leaking of the private emails of a Mrs Hillary Clinton in 2016. They might have to wait; the British government want to talk to him about skipping bail; the Swedish government are considering reviving previous charges regarding sexual offences there.
In the meantime Mr Assange is naturally being accommodated in secure accommodation at the expense of the British government and is being afforded every right available to those charged with but not convicted of offences.
Also not charged, yet, and here comes our third test, is Ms Shamima Begum, who you may recall as the East London girl who turned up in an ISIL refugee camp in Syria. Ms Begum gave birth to and then suffered the tragic death of her baby; and had her British citizenship withdrawn by Home Secretary Sajid Javid. Mr Javid claimed to be able to do this as Ms Begum was entitled to a Bangladesh passport, the country of birth and current residence of her father. The Bangladesh government denied she had such rights; Ms Begum has now appointed an experienced human rights lawyer, Gareth Peirce, to try to get her British citizenship restored. Investigative journalists claim to have uncovered, or to actually have been briefed by UK intelligence sources, that Ms Begum, in spite of her young age, was no innocent housewife whilst behind the ISIL lines in Syria. She was apparently, or perhaps we had better say in view of the record of British intelligence in the Middle East, allegedly, an active member of Islamic State’s “morality police”, a dab hand at fitting suicide bomb kits and an enthusiastic recruiter for the Islamic State cause.
So this might give Ms Begum a slight conundrum; stay in Syria in unpleasant circumstances; or if she wins her citizen reinstatement case, as she probably will, return to the UK to be charged with various offences relating to aiding terrorism? Given that (we trust Mr Assange will so confirm) conditions in remand prisons in the UK are not especially unpleasant, she may well choose to return, face the music, and throw herself on the gentle nature of British justice. Whichever it is to be, she has the comfort of knowing that she will be able to get (British, not Islamic State) free legal aid for her battles with British justice.
We said we would not have a quiz question, but on reflection, do lets. Of the three persons whose troubles are outlined above, who is not getting much justice?