Friday, 14 September 2012

Drink, smoke, eat: prohibition today

I am producing and chairing this discussion on our changing attitudes towards personal pleasure as part of the Battle of Ideas Festival at the Barbican Centre, London.
Drink, smoke, eat: prohibition today
Sunday 21 October, 5.00pm until 6.15pm, Garden Room Under the Spotlight

Are we entering a new prohibitionist era? Drinking and even smoking are still perfectly legal, but there is a palpable sense that they are less acceptable than they once were. Cigarettes have become far more expensive thanks to punitive taxes, and the authorities would like to do something similar with alcohol. The spread of ‘no drinking’ zones in public places also seems to follow the pattern of smoking bans, which now cover every indoor public space and many outdoor ones too. So are we witnessing prohibition by stealth? Instead of banning certain activities, is the state trying render them socially unacceptable?

Putting smokers beyond the social pale certainly seemed to be health secretary Andrew Lansley’s objective when he explained the decision to implement a ‘plain packaging’ policy for cigarettes: ‘[It] is about moving to a place where tobacco and smoking isn’t part of normal life.’ An Australian court’s decision to uphold an even more extreme plain packaging policy has paved the way for similar moves worldwide. And where official anti-smoking policies have gone, anti-booze strategies look set to follow.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson of the British Medical Association was angered recently by the proximity of booze to other food stuffs. ‘We have to start denormalising alcohol,’ she said. So might we see ‘plain packaging’ for alcohol too? And will that other bane of public health, so-called junk food, be next for the denormalisation treatment? With a black market already blossoming for tax-free tobacco, can we expect the rise of home-brew and moonshine, or even organised crime dealing in booze as it does with other illicit drugs?

More fundamentally, is it right that the government, aided and abetted by health professionals, seeks to change and mould our behaviour? Or should we be free to determine our own social norms, what is normal and what is not, rather than have these decided for us? In the past, those calling for abstinence, such as the nineteenth-century Temperance movement, did so in moral terms: alcohol damaged and inhibited that which was considered virtuous, be it hard work or good judgement. Is there a moral argument being made today against boozing or smoking? And if not, what does that tell us about the contemporary drive towards the ‘denormalisation’ of certain forms of behaviour? Or is it simply a good thing that the government is looking out for us, encouraging us to adopt lifestyles which won’t cost the NHS millions or make town centres no-go areas on a Saturday night? Are we witnessing a sensible attempt to change our behaviour for the better, or an assault by stealth on our everyday freedoms?


Dr Sarah Jarvis
GP; fellow, Royal College of General Practitioners; BBC1 One Show doctor; author, Women's Health for Life

Rob Lyons
deputy editor, spiked; writer on science and risk; author, Panic on a Plate: how society developed an eating disorder

Dr Michael Nelson
director of research and nutrition, Children's Food Trust

Chris Snowdon
author, Velvet Glove, Iron Fist and The Art of Suppression: Pleasure, Panic and Prohibition since 1800

Christine Thompson
Manager, UK government relations, SABMiller

Sunday, 2 September 2012

In finding itself banned, Unite Against Fascism has fallen victim to its own brand of boneheaded illiberalism

Brendan O'Neill's Telegraph blog:

Just how dumb is Unite Against Fascism? Having lobbied the government many times in recent months to ban marches by the English Defence League, it is now outraged that the Government has not only taken up this offer to squish the EDL but has pushed it further, by banning all public protests in five London boroughs for the next 30 days. That means both the Right-wing EDL and the lefties at UAF – and anyone else with a political gripe – are forbidden from marching in Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest any time in September. “This is a huge attack on everyone’s civil liberties”, bleats UAF, which is weird, considering that they’re the ones who invited the Government to undermine people’s civil liberties in the first place.
Theresa May’s blanket ban on all protests, following a request from the Metropolitan Police, is certainly outrageous, not to mention ironic, coming as it does just days after her boss David Cameron talked about his role in introducing political freedom to Libya. But UAF has no one but itself to blame for this extraordinary clampdown on the right to protest. For an apparently radical leftist campaign group, UAF is awfully fond of asking the Tory government to ban things – it has frequently demanded the outlawing of EDL marches, on the basis that they “spread fear” and might brainwash stupid working-class white people into turning racist. And when you cravenly invite the Government to play the role of in loco parentis in community life, to squish heated marches or protests on the basis that they might warp people’s minds and hearts, you really shouldn’t be surprised when it jumps at the opportunity. If you spend your every waking hour going cap-in-hand to the powers-that-be, demanding “No Platform!” for people you don’t like, you’re not in a very good position to complain when the authorities decide to deny you a platform too.
Now, UAF has issued what must rank as one of the silliest political statements of the year so far. “We the undersigned welcome the banning of the racist English Defence League’s march through Tower Hamlets,” it says. “But we are appalled to discover that the Metropolitan Police are applying for a blanket ban on ALL marches across five London boroughs… It is our human right to peacefully march in Tower Hamlets.” Wait – how come UAF has a “human right” to march, but the EDL does not? Are EDL members not human? Moreover, it really is spectacularly daft to talk about the importance of the right to march in the same breath as you welcome a government decision to ban a march. What UAF is effectively saying is: “We should have the freedom to march, but they shouldn’t.”
Which rather confirms that the anti-fascist Left doesn’t know the meaning of the word freedom. Freedom of speech only exists if everyone has it. The freedom to protest must mean that everyone, from worthy Left-wingers to cranky EDL types, should be at liberty to gather where and when they please and to demand whatever they want. What UAF is fighting for is not freedom but privilege. If a thing is denied to some people but granted to others, then it’s a privilege rather than a right – and UAF wants the “privilege to protest” in certain London boroughs where it expects other, less privileged, possibly non-human political activists to be silenced and curfewed on its behalf by the government. That is, UAF only really believes in Government-approved, Tory-approved, forms of public agitation. Maybe now, having fallen victim to its own boneheaded illiberalism and censorious stupidity, UAF will recognise that privileges can quite easily be taken away.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Have we got copyright wrong?

Next Birmingham Salon: Have we got copyright wrong?

7.30pm Thursday 13th September at The Ropewalk, 15-20 St Paul’s Square, Birmingham B3 1QU

Is copyright a principle that is impossible to maintain in the modern world where reproduction is almost effortless? Should we take a pragmatic line and formulate alternative licensing and business models that are adaptive to the new realities of the digital age? Or should we, make a stand against the devaluation of works of art and entertainment as freebies, and defend the notion of social creations deserving of reward and accreditation? And as the British government prepares to make publicly available scientific research for everyone to read for free, are there separate principles involved in research literature on the one hand and artistic works on the other?

Farms shouldn't be sacred cows

Supermarkets aren’t to blame for UK dairy farmers failing to turn a profit; government special treatment is.


One in 10 British dairy farmers will be driven out of the business by Christmas if planned milk-price cuts are imposed by the supermarkets, claimed Andrew Hemming, vice chairman of the campaign group Farmers For Action.

Farmers for Action is encouraging people to sign an online petition to be sent to Defra (the UK Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) which claims: ‘The UK government must do more to protect the interests of British dairy farmers. The low price of milk is forcing extremely hard-working farming families into poverty and increasing the dependence on antibiotics used with animals that will have a devastating affect on the industry. If the price of milk is not increased soon, then the UK will suffer a shortage of supply and thus pay more in the long term.’ Blockades of milk-processing plants have taken place in Worcestershire and Derbyshire. It seems likely that more blockades will occur in the future, despite a deal ‘in principle’ being agreed recently with Jim Paice, the minister for agriculture.

Many critics of the supermarkets have also pointed out that, unlike other industries, dairy farmers do not set the price at which they sell their product. Many have contracts to supply milk to processors, but the amount they receive varies. Three processors now dominate supplies of fresh milk to the big supermarkets, which in turn account for nearly two thirds of sales to the public. Arla (which supplies Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons) has an estimated 43 per cent of the market; Robert Wiseman (Tesco) has 35 per cent; and Dairy Crest (Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose and M&S) has 22 per cent. In total, 87 per cent of UK milk is purchased by just five per cent of the processors. This, we are told, gives far too much power to processors and supermarkets who are able to cut ‘farm gate’ prices.

Let’s leave aside Farmers for Action’s blatantly populist nod to the misinformed notion that cattle on intensive farms are pumped full of antibiotics (see Time for an injection of common sense). The fact is that the number of dairy farms in England and Wales has been falling steadily for some years. In 1995, there were 35,741 dairy farms; by 2010, that had dwindled to 15,716. It is thought that dairy farms currently number around 11,000 and some speculate that another 8,000 farms will cease milk production over the next few years. The average herd size in the UK is 117 cows (with considerable regional variation). This is significantly above the EU average of 42, and the trend is for the herd size to increase further. Yield per cow is increasing, and is currently around 7,315 litres per cow per year. Again this is much higher than the EU average. So where are things going wrong?

Farms would be profitable, goes one argument, were it not for big supermarkets making unfair demands and forcing inhuman animal-welfare practices on producers. Others see the problem located within the international markets, where farmers and consumers are at the mercy of commodity traders. The reality is almost the opposite of this. The problem of farm profitability largely comes down to the state protection from market forces that British farmers receive.

For most of the twentieth century, agriculture was treated as a special sector of the economy. The Milk Marketing Board was established in 1933 to control milk production and distribution in the UK. It functioned as the buyer of last resort, thereby guaranteeing a minimum price for milk producers. The Second World War engrained the idea that national self-sufficiency was paramount. The vast majority of milk available in Britain is still produced in Britain.

The first farming subsidy in the UK came in the form of the 1947 Agriculture Act. Following legislation, the 1952 Agriculture (Ploughing Grants) Act and the 1957 Farm Improvement Grant continued to favour the development of farms dependent on government. Grants and subsidies carried on during the 1960s, with new provisions encouraging small farms to amalgamate with larger ones and to encourage farmers to retire early. When Britain entered the European Economic Community (aka, the Common Market, now the EU) in 1973, many of the subsidies stopped, but the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) continued to support prices artificially, protect markets and provide subsidies. Today, subsidies to UK farmers are meant not only to increase agricultural productivity but also to protect standards of living for farmers and farming communities in the EU and to bring consumers cheap food.

Subsidies are production-based (meaning the more acres of cereals you grow or the more animals you have, the greater the subsidy), so the bulk of the subsidy goes to the larger, richer farms. It is commonly stated that within the EU, 80 per cent of farm subsidies go to 20 per cent of farmers. So while much subsidy goes to old aristocratic landowners, all dairy farmers are protected from the market forces that would incentivise them to innovate their way out of their current troubles.

While encouraging an increase in the productivity of a particular industry may be a positive role for government, protecting that industry from competition can only cause it problems in the long run. An industry that must compete in a world market, where opportunity promotes innovation and where the need to increase profit develops the productive process, will quickly becomes stagnant if it is protected from these pressures. Where does the desire to improve come from when profit is secured through policy rather than through the possibility of improvement? Instead of innovating, the various sectors of the industry compete for a larger slice of an already existing cake. For farmers, at the bottom of the chain, it is the ‘gate price’ which is being squeezed, to the extent that milk production is no longer profitable for many farmers.

So although a dairy farmer with the average number of cows for the UK receives little subsidy for his milk, he may well receive grants for ‘stewardship of the countryside’. He probably makes just as much money by contracting himself out as a labourer on other farms, opening a farm shop or becoming part of the tourist industry by converting barns into holiday cottages, than he does from food production. This is a consequence, not of rampant corporatism, but of protectionism.

As regards milk supply and food security, the fact is that most of Britain’s milk comes from bigger farms. In 2008/09, 3,484 farms jointly produced more than one million litres of milk. This accounted for 59 per cent of the total milk supply in Britain. In contrast, 5,008 farms (40 per cent of the industry) produced less than 500,000 litres of milk - just 13 per cent. These 5,008 farms could go out of business without affecting the milk supply drastically.

Farmers for Action argues that the livelihoods of the farmers from these 5,008 farms need special protection from the market. But they already have such protection – that is how they have been able to survive up to this point even though their contribution to the national milk supply is negligible. Society is being asked to subsidise people who run unproductive businesses. But these businesses are largely unproductive and unprofitable because of subsidies, because they are shielded from what every other small business owner in the country has to face – the realities of economic life.

As a National Farmers Union (NFU) spokeswoman said: ‘We are not talking about large businesses here. They are small firms, often one- or two-man bands, who have large overdrafts and quite big loans.’ This doesn’t sound much different from lots of small businesses in many different sectors throughout Britain. Farmers are generally a resourceful, able and self-sufficient bunch who should welcome opportunity; the special pleading from Farmers for Action is doing them no favours. Farming is not special - and it needs to sink or swim like any other sector of the economy.

The bottom line is that milk should be cheap. Developments in agricultural productivity and practices have consistently lowered the price of food to the consumer. Cheap food is the agricultural sector’s contribution to the development of modern society and needs to continue. If farms with 117 cows cannot contribute to the continued lowering of prices, then what is their reason for existing?

Jason Smith is judges coordinator at the Institute of Ideas Debating Matters Competition and the former director of the Birmingham Salon.

Published on

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Life is a Dream by Birmingham Opera Co.

B'hamOpera Poster

Two members of Birmingham Salon are taking part in Birmingham Opera Company's next production, the world premiere of Life is a Dream by composer, Jonathan Dove and writer, Alasdair Middleton. They have created a brand new, full length opera and they've used a legendary play by 17th century Spanish Playwright, Calderón.
Artistic Director, Graham Vick, designer Samal Blak, and William Lacey from Leipzig Opera are in charge. Singers include British tenor, Paul Nilon as the King, Wendy Dawn Thompson (mezzo), Keel Watson (bass), Donna Bateman (soprano). They'll be joined by American tenor, Joseph Guyton who played Cassio in Othello and is a finalist in Germany's X Factor. Playing the role of Segismund is American baritone, Eric Greene.

One member of the chorus, Niall Crowley, wrote this piece 
for Independent about the production and the company:

Opera for the masses, by the masses?
DSC00612 300x225 Opera for the masses, by the masses?In a disused tin-plate factory in a backstreet of Digbeth in Birmingham, an extraordinary thing is happening – a brand new, full-scale opera is being born. This can only mean one thing – world-renowned opera director Graham Vick is back in town, and his one-production-a-year Birmingham Opera Company (BOC) has once again sprung into life.
While the announcement of their ‘helicopter production’ of Stockhausen’s Mittwoch aus Licht for the Cultural Olympiad is grabbing the headlines, the BOC has been staging groundbreaking opera in unusual locations around the city for more than a decade. It has never based a production in a traditional theatre, opting instead for large disused, or unlikely, urban spaces: a shopping mall, empty factories, an abandoned ice rink and even a former city centre bank.
With the absence of conventional stage and seating areas in such venues, the BOC have developed productions that cleverly blur the distinction between actors and audience. The audience is in the thick of it, herded and moved around as the action unfolds around them, and quite often becoming unwitting participants whilst experiencing the full musical force of opera, up close and personal. They are engulfed by the sound of the orchestra, a huge chorus, and of course, the lead soloists. It’s better than a royal box.
In the spirit of Vick’s desire to experiment, break new ground and to never repeat, the company has commissioned an entirely new opera for this year. Life is a Dream was written by composer Jonathan Dove and librettist Alasdair Middleton and is based upon a mythological tale by 17th Century Spanish playwright Calderón. The company has had less than three months to bring this new opera to life.
The surprising part about this most unusual of companies is that its chorus and cast of actors are ordinary members of the public who volunteer their services. Birmingham Opera Company actively encourages people from across the city, with little or no previous experience of either opera or performance, to join the cast.
Yet despite a seeming similarity to a New Labour-style ‘social inclusion project’ there is a notable absence of familiar buzzwords. The productions are not designed to make opera ‘relevant’ to the experiences of inner-city youth or build the ‘self-esteem’ of people so often labeled ‘underprivileged’ or ‘vulnerable’. As one critic noted; ‘none of the works it has staged… has seemed an obvious choice for a company that involves as many local people as possible in every production’. Vick himself adds ‘if we were introducing audiences and participants to a new art form, then let it be to the art form at its most challenging and spiritually powerful.’
The reason an opera company consisting of so many novices can perform to such a high level is due to the BOC’s conviction that we are all, with a push, capable of raising our game. The amateur chorus and actors work long and hard in order to meet the standards Vick expects for his productions. Crucial in this mix is the support of professionals. Vick has assembled a team of actors, choreographers and musicians who train and work alongside the amateur cast, acting as their mentors.
To conclude, what Graham Vick and his company demonstrate so well is that opera, regardless of when, where and by whom it was made, can speak to us all and enrich our lives. When parochialism, ‘relevance’ and the politics of identity encourage us look inwards and backwards, the passion of Vick and his team to involve and teach the general public about opera, and his faith in their ability to understand and appreciate it, should be applauded and encouraged.
The world premiere of Life is a Dream is on 21 March at the Argyle Works in Birmingham.
Niall Crowley is a founder of the Birmingham Salon and a member of Birmingham Opera Company’s volunteer chorus

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Don't shout at the Tele: Queer Politics

I took part in a Worldbytes 'Don't Shout at the Tele, Change the Message' series. I discussed Queer politics and how ideas of equality have changed, with a group of Worldwrite volunteers. Here is the film:

Find out more about Worldbytes

See other films in the 'Don't Shout at the Tele' series

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Official anti-racism: the new nationalism?

Once the establishment preached the doctrine of race and nation - now the elites have redefined racism as ‘a secular sin’.
Mick Hume 

Once the British state and establishment used the politics of race to boost its authority. Today, in pursuit of the same self-serving ends, they are instead engaged in a phoney moral crusade behind official anti-racism. Is that anything to celebrate?

The conviction of two men for the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 has sparked a national celebration of this apparent victory over the evils of racism. Every section of the media and political elite has jostled to line up behind Lawrence’s parents and sign up to the official anti-racist consensus. As one leading press figure put it, the guilty verdict is ‘a triumph’ not only for the Lawrences but for British justice, policing, politics and the media.

For those of us who campaigned against racism in the bad old days of the 1980s, this looks like so remarkable a turnaround in attitudes that one might almost wonder if we are living not just in another century but on a different planet. Thirty years ago when I joined a group called Workers Against Racism, there was no sympathetic media coverage or mainstream political support for the Asian families being burnt out of housing estates or the black youth being routinely brutalised by the police. The national debate was all about the scourge of ‘immigrant scroungers’ and black ‘muggers’. Those who fought against racists were branded extremists, the flipside of the fascists.

Let’s be clear. This was not the ‘unwitting’ prejudice described by the Macpherson inquiry into Lawrence’s murder as the basis of ‘institutional racism’ in the UK. It was deliberate, politicised and vitriolic racism, popularised from the top down and enforced by the state as a weapon to divide the working class and consolidate white support for the authorities.

Living in Moss Side, Manchester during the 1981 riots, I remember police vans cruising the streets while riot cops beat their batons on the side and chanted ‘Niggers, niggers, niggers – out, out, out!’. A veteran comrade of mine recalls being arrested in east London around the same time while carrying some Workers Against Racism pamphlets, and being repeatedly asked by the police ‘Do you like monkeys?’ and ‘Why do you live in a monkey cage?’ (that is, his largely black council estate in Hackney). After the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham exploded in a riot sparked by police brutality in 1985, in which an officer was killed, the Metropolitan Police arrested hundreds of youths and told the white kids to cooperate because ‘we only want the blacks’. And so it went on. The incompetent police investigation into the Lawrence murder should have come as little surprise.

And the problem went far beyond police ranks. Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher is remembered for her declaration about British culture being ‘swamped’ by immigrants. But there was little more sympathy for the victims of racism among leaders of the Labour Party and trade unions. In 1982, we marched from London to Brighton to call on the TUC to take a stand against racial discrimination and violence. Our message was not well received.

Now look at the contrast with the carnival of official anti-racism around the Lawrence murder verdicts this week. What has brought these remarkable changes about? New Labour home secretary Jack Straw summed up the widespread view that, ‘if Britain has changed for the better in the intervening 19 years… that’s above all down to two extraordinary people, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, Stephen’s parents’. Are we really to believe that the Lawrences have magic powers to transform a nation?

What has happened over the past two decades is that Britain has undergone a major cultural shift as the old politics of nationalism and race have lost their grip on public consciousness. This would have happened whether or not Stephen Lawrence had been murdered by racists. Indeed, the fact that his killing remains the benchmark for racist violence 19 years on shows how rare such incidents have become.

But here is the thing. The truth is that the less overtly racist British society has become in recent times, the more the authorities have started preaching about the evils of racism and launching new crusades against it. What has altered most is the perception of racism. Where once it was society’s guilty secret, now there is a concerted effort to trawl for and publicise any hint of racially incorrect language or behaviour from the school playground to the football pitch. The less racism is in evidence, the more everything appears to have been racialised. Why?

Official anti-racism has become the beleaguered elites’ political weapon of choice. The old British Establishment used the traditional politics of nationalism, race and empire to assert its authority. Those days are long gone. Instead, today’s political and cultural elites have seized upon the new orthodoxy of official anti-racism to try to give them a sense of moral purpose. Official anti-racism has also become a tool both to demonise and to discipline the white working-class people whom the elites fear and loathe.

The Lawrence case has indeed played a big part in this process, though not in the way widely assumed this week. The key was not so much the murder itself, but the publication of the 1999 Macpherson report into the case, which formally rewrote the state’s doctrine on the politics of race.

Macpherson introduced two landmark changes. First, it introduced a new official definition of a race crime. A racial incident is now ‘any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person’. Such a sweeping subjective definition of a race crime has inevitably confused debate and fostered the view that racism is everywhere and that ever more laws and initiatives are required to police it.

Second, Macpherson defined the problem of ‘institutional racism’ at the heart of British society, leading to the reorganisation of the police and other public institutions around this assumption. But whereas the Sixties radicals who coined the phrase were talking about the deliberate wielding of power by a racist state apparatus, Macpherson explicitly rejected any such link between institutional racism and the exercise of power. The report stated that the Metropolitan Police was not racist; the problem was more the ‘unwitting words and actions’ of individual officers acting together.

Once racism is reduced to a problem of the individual rather than the state or society, the solution becomes re-education to alter individual attitudes. This is an open invitation to the state to intervene to police people’s words, actions and even thoughts – particularly those of the white working class now seen as the source of the problem. Macpherson even proposed that the use of racist language in your own home should be made an explicit criminal offence. The report led to an explosion of race-based codes of conduct, awareness training and surveillance measures throughout British institutions.

New laws have made it possible to charge people with ‘racially aggravated’ offences, rather than just old-fashioned assault or criminal damage, and sentence them more stiffly on conviction. The law has thus extended into punishing an individual, not just for what he had done, but for what he was assumed to be thinking when he committed an offence - his supposed ‘racial motivation’. This was reflected in the sentencing of those two men for the racially motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Redefined on this individualised basis, racism has been taken up as the cause of the moral crusade. Declaring that you are not a racist has become the bottom line that helps mark you out as one of the ‘right-thinking people’, in the words of one police chief. In an age when many of the old moral certainties have been badly eroded, distancing yourself from racist remarks and following the new etiquette is seen as one of the few ways to draw a clear line between Good and Evil.

That is why every British leader and institution is now so keen to swear their abhorrence of racism, as a pass to the moral high ground that might once have been provided by declaring their belief in God. As the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission boasted after the Lawrence verdicts, racial prejudice is now seen ‘as a secular sin that is not to be tolerated’. And the worst sinners are now deemed to be the white working classes, who must have the new catechism/etiquette of official anti-racism drummed into them at every opportunity. That is why, for example, any hint of racism around football, patronisingly seen as a modern opiate of the masses, is made such a public example of today.

It was against this background that the killing of Stephen Lawrence was belatedly singled out by the authorities as so important. It became more than a murder inquiry; not just a criminal case, but a political cause, as the Met’s deputy commissioner Cressida Dick effectively admitted this week: ‘All murder cases are absolutely dreadful, but this case for reasons you will all understand is extremely important, not just for the Metropolitan Police, but for society at large.’ It had become a way for the state to regain some moral authority around official anti-racism.

I have little sympathy for the two men jailed for the killing of Stephen Lawrence. But for some of us who campaigned against racism on the basis of a belief in freedom, equality and democracy, the wider changes the case has become a vehicle for have not been for the better.

Indeed, some of the most worrying political and legal trends evident in recent years have been promoted in the name of official anti-racism post-Lawrence. These include the rewriting of the law along subjective, arbitrary lines through the redefinition of a race crime; the spread of conformist codes of conduct that police language and thought and suppress open debate; the institutionalisation of mistrust and mutual surveillance; and the notion that people are to be judged on their private attitudes at least as much as their public actions.

In the name of ‘zero tolerance’, the codes of official anti-racism have turned intolerance of offensive views into a ‘value’, even a virtue. Indeed, such is the intolerance of those suspected of harbouring sinful thoughts today that anything can apparently be justified to get them – up to and including, as Brendan O’Neill argues on spiked today, the abolition of such an historic principle of the justice system as the law against double jeopardy. This is the modern elite’s version of the old corrupt copper’s mantra – if they’re wrong’uns, anything goes to get them.

On spiked, and even before that in LM magazine, we have argued from the start that there is no benefit for those who believe in freedom in the phoney moral crusade of official anti-racism launched around the Lawrence case. As I wrote here 10 years ago, ‘It is the new thought police, rather than the old racist ones, who are running riot through Britain today’. The exploitation of the Lawrence verdict this week confirms that official anti-racism is now every bit as authoritarian and intolerant as the state racism of old.

Mick Hume is spiked’s editor-at-large.