Saturday, April 13, 2013

Society and Freedom

Looking at some of the protestations that are taking place following the death of Mrs Thatcher, is  on the one hand sad - those who have just died are usually allowed a few days of good words about their lives but on the other hand reassuring - public detraction of politicians is an hallmark of a truly free society.

My fleeting comparison  of the freedoms in British society today with those of a few years ago is inevitably I suppose negative as the media tends to focus on bad news rather than good. The reality however on giving the matter more reflection is I think more positive.

As recently as 1979 there were stringent limits on travelling abroad or rather on taking cash out of the country which had much the same effect. My old passport of that era is stamped with permissions just before Easter between  1973  and 1979 allowing me to take amounts of between £10 and £30 out of Britain into France for the annual HCPT pilgrimages at a time when the annual limit on taking money abroad was £50. Even allowing for inflation since then, such drastic exchange control restrictions on spending hard earned and already heavily taxed money as wage earners chose,  definitely impinged on personal freedom in a way which thankfully no longer applies.

Then  a few years before that the obligation to perform national military service  had been abandoned.

The Cold War was still at its height and I well recall  boys at our  Jesuit boarding school saying the De Profundis before bedtime given the possibility that nuclear war might have broken out by the following day over the Cuban  Soviet missile crisis  stand off between Kruschev and Kennedy.

 Today's standoff  with North Korea is still obviously very sad and potentially tragic but does not yet anyway, carry with it the same sense of dread   that the October 1962 Cuban Missile crisis engendered.

The Supreme Court in London  recently  (March 2013) sat in secret over a Middle East case. That that might be a retrograde step   but thankfully was the subject of several pronouncements by their lordships beforehand.  The Indy reported at the time:

Today Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, said that he and his fellow eight justices ha(ve) agreed to hold a closed hearing in the case of an appeal by an Iranian Bank, banned from trading with British companies under the counter terrorism act.
The UK’s most senior judge, who has always advocated open justice, said that they were “dubious” and “sceptical” about the Government legal team’s claim that they could not deal with the appeal justly without hearing its secret evidence but had agreed to a closed hearing to consider it.

Thus in my view the risk  of secret or covert legal processes  is a major area of weakness as regards the freedom of the individual  in Britain in C21 which needs careful watching.

The day to day difficulties of living with an annual inflation rate of c. 13%+ a few years back compared with those of today's c. 3%- are I suppose also relevant to the freedom of the individual although interest rates now are  matters resulting as much  from international  human life as life in the UK. Had the UK been a member of the Euro however the lack of freedom of the kind arguably affecting  several member countries  might be another area for concern although the real issue  may not  really be one of lack of national  freedom but of national overspending needing reigning in.

Quite how national  freedom stands up to terrorism involves difficult governmental decisions but the 9/11 tragedies in the USA seem to me as an outsider to have put that country on a road which is potentially  less free now than before in much the same way as Xray and other hugely irritating searches and procedures at airports the world over are doing. A difficulty is that once instituted, such major infringements of individuals' private 'rights' are rarely if ever stood down.

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