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09/10/2009 - Solidarity quoted on Human Rights site

A SOLIDARITY spokesman has been extensively quoted on a Human Rights and Free Speech web-site. 

General Secretary Patrick Harrington accused the Trades Union Congress and Labour Party Schools Secretary Ed Balls of being “engaged in a race as to who can call for the most totalitarian and repressive legislation. They’ve both used September to launch an assault on democracy”


The news article - Freedom of association under attack – appeared on Civil Liberty.


Mr. Harrington also accused the TUC and Mr. Balls of supporting a form of new McCarthyism - the politically motivated practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence.


He noted that this new McCarthyism was a form of totalitarianism and represented “a full assault on freedom of association”.


The article is reproduced in full below.


Freedom of association under attack

4th October 2009

Civil Liberty correspondent


September has seen the enemies of democracy and freedom working overtime to curtail our civil liberties.

The first attack came after speeches at the TUC Annual Conference (held in Liverpool between 14 – 17th of September).  In Liverpool, the TUC demanded that BNP members “should be banned across the whole of the public sector”.

Then came the Labour Party Annual Conference (held in Brighton between 26th September – 1st of October).  In Brighton, Labour went a step further.  Here, Schools Secretary Ed Balls announced an investigation by former Ofsted Chief Inspector Maurice Smith into "racism in schools” and in particular, whether BNP members should be banned from teaching.

The General Secretary of the Solidarity Trade Union, Pat Harrington, has accused the TUC and Mr. Balls of supporting a form of new McCarthyism - the politically motivated practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence.

Ed Balls has already sent a letter to Maurice Smith [1].  The letter makes it clear what the desired outcome of the 'investigation' is.  The purpose of the investigation is to find the "strong grounds" necessary to justify a ban on BNP teachers.  It also indicates that the ban might be applied over a wider area than just teachers to affect others in the school workforce.  No information is given as to the selection procedure used to appoint Maurice Smith or whether other candidates for the role were considered.  This has lead many to question the independence of Smith.

Commentators have further pointed out that on June 21st, 2009, the Guardian newspaper reported:- "The source close to Balls said the issue was being re-examined in the light of the election to the European parliament of two BNP members, including party leader Nick Griffin".  This implies that the proposed ban was not being put forward to meet any educational or social goal but rather to punish the BNP for winning seats and to intimidate voters from supporting or joining that particular political party.  The BNP are the main rival to the Labour Party in many electoral wards.

Pat Harrington commented:-

"There is a full assault on freedom of association.  Democracy at the least entails that all citizens have claims to participate in the legislative programming of society.  Given the size and complexity of democratic societies, rights have to be realised to a significant degree through participation in the debates of the political public sphere and through their membership in and support for political organisations such as Parties.  If they lack such opportunities and choices or face intimidation in exercising them, political decisions will lack democratic legitimacy.  Where the law or administrative orders prohibit such options, 'it cuts off the possibility of participating in the open ended future required by democracy.  Precisely to the extent the law imposes a version of what the future can or cannot be ...[people] are reduced to heteronomous subjects, instead of autonomous citizens' as Post put it.  [2]The burden of justification for future-constraining regulations on freedom of association and expression is on those who propose and favour them. It seems to me that they will find if difficult to dress-up their clear political spite in these terms."

Mr. Harrington noted that the TUC and Labour “seem to be engaged in a race as to who can call for the most totalitarian and repressive legislation. They’ve both used September to launch an assault on democracy. Their attacks on the civil liberties of BNP members reveal their attitude to the rights of citizens in general. The mask has slipped and their true nature is clear for all to see."

Kevin Scott for Civil Liberty also condemned the attacks on freedom of association.

He referenced Article 11 of the ECHR, protecting freedom of association.

He said:-

"Under the ECHR freedom of association can be restricted only (i) in the interests of national security or public safety, (ii) for the prevention of disorder or crime, (iii) for the protection of health or morals, or (iv) for the protection of the rights or freedoms of others”.  Any restrictions must be "prescribed by law, " and they must be "necessary in a democracy" to achieve one of the four listed objectives.  In two cases (the Sidiropoulos [3] and Communist Party [4] cases), the Court emphasised that exceptions must be "construed strictly," that only "clear and compelling" reasons can justify restrictions, that any restrictions must be "proportional to the legitimate end pursued," and that there must be "relevant and sufficient" evidence and "decisions based on an acceptable assessment of the relevant facts" before a restriction can be justified.

I believe that the proposed ban will fail these tests. We will work with our comrades in Solidarity to challenge all such restrictions on freedom of association. We will crash their anti-freedom bandwagon."

[1 ]Letter to Maurice Smith.

[2] Robert Post: Dignity, Autonomy, and Democracy, Inaugural Richard Daub Lecture at J.W. Goethe Universität Frankfurt/M., November 1999, available from here.

[3] Sidiropoulos & Others v. Greece, European Court of Human Rights, 10 July 1998

[4] United Communist Party of Turkey v. Turkey, European Court of Human Rights, 30 January 1998