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Vote Civil Liberties!

Almost everyone in politics says they support civil liberties, but for most, this is mere lip service. There are tragically few civil libertarians in Parliament (most of those that were there previously were Liberal Democrats, who were largely wiped out in 2010). Neither of the large parties have strong records in this area. Labour’s last flirtation with civil liberty was under the Home Secretary Roy Jenkins in the 1960s, and he abandoned the party in the 1980s. The left and right wings of politics are almost indistinguishable on this measure. They’re distinguished by economic views, not by a belief in civil liberties.

Today we face new and fundamental attacks on our civil liberties. And yet, as the political spectrum has polarised to left and right, liberalism is at a low ebb. Just as a vigorous defence of civil liberties has become essential, so the political class – and political activists – have lost interest in civil liberties.

Theresa May, an authoritarian Home Secretary turned authoritarian Prime Minister, has overseen deep attacks on civil liberties. Of greatest concern are two new laws:

The Digital Economy Act (2017)

The Digital Economy Act, under the guise of “protecting children from online porn”, has introduced the most powerful system of censorship in the democratic world, which will kick into action in 2018. As often predicted on this blog, no sooner had the law been passed than Theresa May was licking her lips at the prospect of extending further and further. With almost no coverage in the press, we are about to lose access to the Internet as we knew it.

The Investigatory Powers Act (2016)

The IPA (aka the Snoopers’ Charter) effectively removes our right to online privacy. Theresa May’s early attempts to introduce this law were blocked by the Liberal Democrats while in coalition (we should thank the Lib Dems for this act, and many others, but the endless obsession with tuition fees eclipses their many successes in power). It is a draconian piece of legislation that has no place in a democracy. As the US whistle-blower and liberty campaigner Edward Snowden tweeted:

Brexit

The coming Brexit only compounds these problems, removing us from EU law that protects our online rights. It is likely that both of these laws could be challenged, if we Remained. But the British people, in their infinite wisdom, have opted to Leave. And the likely economic decline inherent in Brexit will only distract further from civil liberties: freedom is a luxury for the secure and the well-fed.

Where is the Opposition?

The good news is that there is a surge of political interest among the young. The bad news is that this enthusiasm has been thrown behind a conservative-left clique with no great interest in civil liberties. As a result, the election debate has been dominated by the usual economic arguments, and civil liberties have been swept aside. We end up in the strange situation where both main parties have swung leftward. Economically, the Tories have snatched the centre-ground abandoned by the Corbynites, while Labour, lacking a coherent analysis of economic problems or solutions, has become obsessed with nationalising stuff (an old fascination of the left which which is unlikely to resolve any problems).

But both party leaders are authoritarian by nature. Corbyn may (correctly) attack the British love-in with Saudi Arabia, but he has less to say about other regimes. Indeed, he has expressed strong support for the socialist regime in Venezuela (and has nothing to say about the suspension of democracy, the shootings of protesters, or the steep rise in poverty there). He is also muted in his criticism of Iran (and has pocketed money from a state-owned TV company). In short, we’ve returned to cold war politics, where both left and right are comfortable with state repression and murder. They agree that repression is OK – they just differ in who the bad guys are.

Corbyn, mistakenly viewed by many of his followers as a progressive, has put up no opposition whatsoever to May’s anti-liberty putsch. The Digital Economy Act was passed with Labour support. Shamefully, Corbyn’s Labour chose to abstain on the Snoopers Charter vote, rather than join the Liberal Democrats in voting against. They allowed it to be passed into law without challenge. Furthermore, Labour’s manifesto makes no mention to any changes to these laws. They will remain, whoever wins this election.

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And as for Brexit: Jeremy Corbyn comes from the anti-EU wing of Labour politics, and has never hidden his euroscepticism (or at least, didn’t hide it until 2015, when it would have hampered his election as leader). Of all the party leaders, he is second only to UKIP’s Paul Nuttall in his enthusiasm for Brexit. And yet, many of his followers are pro-EU, and apparently unaware of his views on the matter, or of the role he played in quietly helping the Leave campaign to victory. Like the Tories, Labour has committed to ending free movement in the EU: Corbynites think this attitude is racist in Theresa May, but ignore it in their Chosen One.

There appear to be two Jeremy Corbyns: the europhobic 1970s throwback I’ve followed since he was elected in 1983 (I was a teenage leftie at the time), and the imaginary one his supporters believe in. Just as in the Monty Python classic, the Life of Brian, Jeremy Corbyn is their Messiah, and they won’t let the real person cloud their enthusiasm for the saviour they imagine him to be.

Vote Civil Liberties!

There is a clear choice in this election, but it’s not between Labour and the Tories. The line is between statist, pro-Brexit parties (Labour and the Conservatives) and internationalist, civil liberties parties (the Liberal Democrats and the Greens). The SNP appear to lie somewhere in the middle. The Liberal Democrats have followed up their opposition to the Snoopers Charter with a commitment to repeal it (you won’t find such a commitment in the Labour Manifesto). And only the Lib Dems tried to oppose the introduction of the “porn censor” within the Digital Economy Act.

On Europe, the Lib Dems have also committed to fight for free movement in the EU (LabCon have committed to end it), and have promised a second referendum on the Brexit deal, including an option to Remain.

There is, of course, no chance of them winning this election. But, whether the election is won by authoritarian bullies of left or right, we desperately need more civil libertarians in Parliament, and there are almost none in the main parties. The Lib Dems and the Greens deserve support for flying the civil liberties, pro-EU flag. Please consider lending them your support.

Milo, Berkeley, and the Death of the Spirit of the Sixties

This week’s protests to prevent a controversial speaker – Milo Yiannopolis – from speaking at the University of California at Berkeley, are a sad indictment of the of the state of progressive politics. The location of the incident, once the birthplace of a great liberal movement, makes for a sad comparison with the great radical era of the 1960s.

Those of us who were teenage activists in the 1980s felt we’d missed out on something. Our parents’ generation (at least, in our imaginations) had the civil rights movement, the great anti-Vietnam war protests, the hippy movement, Black Power and psychedelia.  Their soundtrack was Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, Joan Baez, Motown, Simon and Garfunkel. We had Reagan and Thatcher, mass unemployment, power ballads, and yuppies. They had great progressive victories, we got used to experiencing defeats.

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We, children of a grey London that was run down and depressed after half a century of economic decline, dreamed of the California of the 1960s. I read Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comics, and knew all about San Francisco’s famous Haight-Ashbury district, the centre of counterculture, although in reality, my entire experience of travelling outside Britain was limited to a couple of short trips to France.

And I read about the university campus at Berkeley, near San Francisco, the heartland of 1960s American radicalism; a radicalism which, already by the 80s, was ebbing away. In response to repression, Berkeley had been birthplace to the Free Speech Movement of 1964-65, which aimed to ensure that everybody on campus was given their right to speak. It was, in today’s terms, the mirror image of the current student obsession with “no platforming” (i.e. censoring) ideas considered unacceptable. While the movement was left wing, it is important to realise that it created a space for all political speech. As the Wiki page notes: “This applied to the entire student political spectrum, not just the liberal elements that drove the Free Speech Movement”.

Contrast this anti-censorship attitude with what happened this week. Milo Yiannopolis, a provocative speaker of the right, was due to talk about “cultural appropriation” – a bizarre, illiberal idea, now popular on the left, that access to culture should be segregated by race. “Cultural appropriation” popularises on the left an idea that the 1960s left stood firmly against: that people should be treated differently based on nothing but their skin colour or racial origin. It is a bullying and authoritarian ideology, and has resulted in racist incidents like a famous attack on a white man for the “crime” of wearing dreadlocks, and the cancellation of a reggae festival because too many white people were involved.

Milo is a well known shit-stirrer, and enjoys winding up easily-offended illiberal types. He’s annoying, often (but not always) wrong, and I’ve done my best to avoid him. Unfortunately, some on the left have decided instead to promote him, by protesting against him, having him no-platformed, or calling him a “Nazi” for no good reason. Thanks to these intolerant arseholes, we’ve had to put up with Milo being everywhere, and getting a lucrative book deal. Thinking about it, this is pretty much the same way that “liberals” helped Donald Trump reach power. Thanks guys.

Fans of George Orwell will enjoy what happened next. Milo (a gay, Jewish man), due to speak out against a racist, pro-segregationist ideology, faced protest by people calling him a “Nazi”. The talk was cancelled, and riots ensued. And (did I mention?) all this happened at Berkeley, once the home of the Free Speech Movement. Oh, and then Donald J Trump, perhaps the closest thing to a fascist ever elected in America, tweeted to defend free speech against attacks from left-wing Berkeley students. We live in the age of irony. Or perhaps the era of facepalm.

Western liberalism is facing its greatest threat since the 1940s, if ever. The far-right may soon seize control in France, the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe. And if you’re expecting a defence of liberalism from the left, it seems you’ll be disappointed.

Free speech must be defended as a universal human right. Human rights cannot be stripped from people on the basis that they’re Muslims or Communists. Nor can they be stripped from people on the basis that they offend other people. The left will not defeat the fascist right by being more fascist than the right. That way lies tyranny.

Porn Panic! Reviewed at Spiked Online and Elsewhere

Porn Panic! – my book on sex, censorship and fascism – has been on sale for two months, and is receiving strong reviews. You can support my campaign against censorship by buying a copy, and spreading the word to your social networks. In fact, since Christmas is almost upon us, why not buy copies for your politically-minded friends and family?

Below are three recent reviews of the book.

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1. Spiked Online

The latest review was written by Helene Guldberg for Spiked Online:

Barnett recognises that to defend free speech we need to wholeheartedly defend the right of those with whom we disagree to say and think whatever they want. We have the right and capacity to challenge or ignore them, as we see fit. ‘Only a true elitist could try to dictate which ideas other people have access to, rather than join the debate and win by force of reason’, he writes. The most shocking aspect of the new forms of censorship for Barnett was the near silence on this issue from so-called liberals. ‘I found many apparently liberal people were only opposed to censorship of things they enjoyed, but would not extend that principle to things they disapproved of.’

You can read her full review at Spiked

2. Emmeline Peaches

Porn Panic! was also recently reviewed by Emmeline Peaches, a sex blogger, feminist, and social and cultural historian. While she finds areas of disagreement, she concludes:

Porn Panic! is an indisputably addictive read and I loved every minute of it. Porn Panic!isn’t just a book—it’s a call to arms (or activism) for anyone who is truly passionate about the adult industry or our freedom as a nation.

As soon as I was done reading Porn Panic! I couldn’t help but recommend it to others, I want everyone I know to read this book and I want to discuss it with them and hear their own thoughts and opinions. For a book that rails against our culture’s current attempts to keep sex and pornography hush-hush I cannot think of more appropriate nor higher praise than that.

Read her review in full at Emmeline’s site

3. Jay Blevins of Awen Therapy

Jay Blevins is a sex-positive therapist who deals with a wide range of issues including: depression, anxiety, marital and relationship issues, personality disorders, low self esteem, stage of life issues, compulsive behaviors, divorce, parenting and co-parenting issues, physical and sexual abuse, trauma and with  alternative lifestyle clients and issues including transitioning transexuals, coming out, polyamory, fetishes, kink and bdsm.

I’m grateful that he took time out to read and review Porn Panic! He writes:

Barnett’s book is in some ways a brutal, but thought-provoking, read. While much of the focus of the book is on efforts to censor porn, the best part of the book is how Barnett looks at the historical perspectives on porn while it deftly intertwines critical analysis of those perspectives. And when I say brutal, I mean Barnett pulls no punches. He clearly shows how the ongoing battle against porn is fueled by emotion, moral judgment, and religion as opposed to research, evidence and logical, rational thought…

I doubt this book will do much to change the hearts and minds of the most strident anti-porn crusaders. However, for anyone open to critically thinking about the issue, this book is fantastic. It is thorough, thoughtful, and easy to read. Both porn and censorship are important topics of great relevance. I encourage everyone to read this book!

Read the full review at Jay’s website