Friday, August 12, 2005

The Orwells, No. 3

Time again to nominate a name for the TYR Orwell Awards, issued at the year's end to the person responsible for the most egregious political misuse of the English language...this week was difficult, partly due to a lot of candidates but also because none of them quite had that spark of sinister inspiration that distinguishes a genuinely dangerous mindset.

There was the entire Saudi government, for saying that Britain has to do more to combat Islamic terrorism. There was the announcement, which I originally took for a joke, that the White House is planning to stage a huge parade and country & western concert to drum up public morale under the title "The Support Freedom Walk". There was previously nominated Hazel Blears with the idea of "rebranding" ethnic minorities to make them more loyal.

But, at the last moment, Lord Falconer, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, scoops this week's Orwell nomination with an interview with the Guardian in which he suggested passing new legislation to tell the courts how to interpret the Human Rights Act "to give weight to the rights of the state". The rights of the state! Not even the rights of the individuals who might get blown up - the state. Now, this may sound not-so-bad. But the bit he wants to order the judges to reinterpret is none other than Article 3, which prohibits torture.

What he wants, but will not say it, is an Act that takes away the force of Article 3, that permits the state to connive at torture and argue that its own rights prevail over those of the tortured - that, in fact, the ends justify the means so long as they conform to the raison d'├ętat. Naturally, if you or I were to torture Lord Falconer on the grounds he represents a danger to our security, and one has to admit that the temptation is there, we should not be able to call on this new legal principle in our defence. And, in British legal history, I think this is a very new principle. So new, in fact, that it deserves more honest consideration.

As it aims to grant rights to commit torture, or to allow persons to be tortured, which is much the same thing, I think his lordship should call his new legislation the Inhuman Rights Act. It encapsulates the principle perfectly.

Recommendations for next week's Orwells - a.harrowell at, or use the comments.

For the weekend, I'll leave you with this, from another Yorkshireman who might even have occasionally been something of a ranter..
The Unknown Citizen
by W. H. Auden

(To JS/07 M 378
This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be

One against whom there was no official complaint,

And all the reports on his conduct agree

That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a


For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.

Except for the War till the day he retired

He worked in a factory and never got fired,

But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.

Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,

For his Union reports that he paid his dues,

(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)

And our Social Psychology workers found

That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.

The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day

And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.

Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,

And his Health-card shows he was once in a hospital but left it cured.

Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare

He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan

And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,

A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.

Our researchers into Public Opinion are content

That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;

When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.

He was married and added five children to the population,

Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his


And our teachers report that he never interfered with their


Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:

Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

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