Friday, 11 March 2011

Is There a Wanker in the Court?

Sir Fred Goodwin is a man who may - or may not - have been much in the UK news at some time, for doing something or other. It is difficult, or at least legally dangerous, to say whether or what. Indeed, one wonders under these circumstances how much of recent UK political history can be discussed at all without falling in criminal contempt of court. It is especially hard to say, because it may also be criminal to say whether these historical details are criminal, or why, or what about them would be criminal and what not.

What, what, what?

Fortunately, the law of Parliamentary privilege allows all media to report on things said in the House of Commons. John Hemming, Liberal Democrat MP:

"In a secret hearing Fred Goodwin has obtained a super-injunction preventing him being identified as a banker.

"Will the government have a debate or a statement on freedom of speech and whether there's one rule for the rich like Fred Goodwin and one rule for the poor?"

A super-injunction forbids not only the reporting of the matters named in it, but also reporting the terms or the very existence of the injunction itself. No direct scrutiny is possible, and their political propriety can only be discussed in an informed way by special dispensation of the parliamentary classes. Their existence and use by rich people and corporations to make any damn thing pertaining to them de facto state secrets might make any election's democratic credentials somewhat suspect, since nobody has any way of knowing which important people's activities are allowable subjects for discussion, or whether the law is being administered honestly.

A respectable and mostly useless solution is to write very general, very severe letters of complaint to our alleged representatives about them. A dangerous and thoroughly implausible solution is to whip up hundred-thousand strong angry mobs in the streets, demanding to know what unspeakable practices amongst the elite these shut-up-about-everything rent-a-gag rules are currently protecting.

The workable and pleasantly civil solution is to exploit the Streisand Effect. In this direction, Charlie Stross has contributed his personal opinion that Fred Goodwin is a wanker. He wonders if this might grow so popular a view, that Fred Goodwin might become the top Google hit for the word 'wanker' for some time to come. But on the basis of what we are allowed to know, we ought fairly to consider: is he right? Is it fair to call Fred Goodwin a wanker?

Well, a banker who hollowed out a successful bank and stuck the taxpayer with the bill would be, in my opinion, a bit of a wanker. But nobody can call Fred Goodwin a banker, so Eeyore the Law exonerates Fred Goodwin of being a wanker there.

However, somebody who corrupts the few democratic safeguards that really exist by simply removing whole topics from permissible discussion is certainly, to this anti-legalist libertarian, behaving badly. I don't feel well-disposed to the judge or lawyers who assisted at these shenanigans - yet they might, conceivably, be considered as prisoners of their professional duty in this. One person did have an inarguable choice. Therefore I definitely disapprove of Fred Goodwin, because here he meets my definition of a bad citizen. But bad citizenry alone would not make Fred Goodwin a wanker.

However... Fred Goodwin, by his own hand, is seeking to make himself a happier man, in a manner which requires society at large to look pointedly away from him until he is quite finished. Nor will this effort prove fruitful.

So I must join Charlie in his conviction that, in the fullest metaphorical sense, Fred Goodwin is indeed being a complete wanker!

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