Episode #77 The Hijacking of our Common Law – and how to set it free: with Mothiur Rahman of New Economy Law
Does the law take care of you? Does it work in your interests, for common senses of justice – a genuine common-weal? If not, why not? And what can we do to change the way things are going?
Mothiur Rahman is founder of New Economy Law and a pioneer member of XR. In his first podcast with us, we explored the work he has done, helping to create a law that works for ordinary people.
This week, we look at the ways the current system is breaking what is known as ‘the rule of law’ – we explore the origins of the Common Law and how it was designed to protect people from a tyrannical system – and how we can help to re-weave our laws locally, nationally and globally into something that helps people and planet to flourish.
Manda: This week, I am delighted to invite back Mothiur Rahman. Mothiur spoke to us before of his work with XR and the New Economy Law Centre, and his work in Scotland, helping to defeat the first of the big fracking enterprises in the UK. And back in the days when I was a veterinary academic, we reckoned that every PhD, every good PhD, should spawn at least six others. And I am coming to the conclusion that every good podcast should spawn at least six others. So this is one of the others that Mothiur Rahman’s podcast gave rise to. And in this one, we’re reaching more deeply into the nature of politics and power, and the allocation of resources, and what is it that we can do, who are ordinary people in the face of increasing authoritarianism, in the face of governments around the world who seem less and less inclined to work for the benefit of all, and more and more inclined to work for the benefit of the very small clique of the ruling class. And given the nature of the politics in the U.K, this is potentially quite a downhearted episode, but we found moments of light. And I continue to find moments of light, and the possibility of Scottish independence that… we didn’t go there in this podcast. So anyway, as we investigate politics and law with someone who is one of the most activist lawyers in the country, I hope you find reasons for hope, people of the podcast, please welcome Mothiur Rahman.
Manda: So, Mothiur Rahman, welcome back to the Accidental Gods podcast. It is such a pleasure to have you back again. And you have moved since we last spoke. You were in Devon and now you’re in sunny seaside Brighton. What’s it like? How is it different to Totnes?
Mothiur: It’s great to be back Manda, just having this conversation with you, and yeah, things have changed a little bit, and the lockdown’s kind of eased up a bit. So I was wandering around this place called the Lanes in Brighton, which are these narrow lanes of shops. And it’s just, yeah, there’s a vibrancy around the area which has a kind of a more of a city feel to it than that, I would say. Has that, still has a lot of creativity. And yeah, I love the art work, and artists, and the cultural kind of things that seem to be happening. There’s a Brighton festival happening next month. So maybe it’s just on a larger scale. There’s lots of, more things and perhaps more of the feel of London, in terms of the demographics.
Manda: Yes. And it’s a real gay Mecca. Most of my lesbian friends seem to end up moving to Brighton, so that they’re amongst friends. And you’re right, it’s it’s an easy train ride to London, whereas Totnes, it’s hardly what you’d call easy to get anywhere else except to Devon and Cornwall. So, yeah. Having said that, all of my really right on friends are moving to Wales. So there you go. Maybe Brighton becomes a little bit of Wales locked in.
Mothiur: And I like this idea of choice between different kinds of places. And the more we understand cities of cultures, towns have their cultures, and they all have their different factors and we can move to where we feel we can most identify in that place. I think place-based lives and livelihoods is so important. And then the connexion we can have like here, where we’re speaking over the Internet, across places as well, but using these tools to keep us connected with each other.
Manda: Indeed, yes. So we can have communities of place, and communities of purpose. And sometimes our communities of purpose come together to become communities of place, which feels increasingly important, I think. So since we last spoke, there have been local elections and a by-election in the UK. There were the elections also for the Assemblies of Wales and the government of Scotland. And so our local political picture has altered somewhat, or perhaps has just confirmed what we already feared, and is already, it seems, having implications on our legal structures, and on what the UK government is daring to do in ways that governments of the right have not in our lifetimes, I think. And so as a lawyer with a real emphasis on justice and equality and climate change and the understanding of progression, how are you feeling now, and where do you see it going?
Mothiur: Thanks so much. Yes, that’s a good question. And broad. What I’m seeing is the nations of of what the political institutions, you could say of the state of Great Britain or the UK, Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England, the nations, and by nation I mean the people. So a kind of seperation between the nation as a political identity, and then you have the nation, which are the people having and growing their own identities and through that, moving in different ways. As you mentioned, Wales becoming more progressive in many elements, with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, and in Scotland as well, looking for independence with Brexit as well, now that’s a huge constitutional change in terms of UK’s relationship to to Europe. So that’s going to have consequences on how each of these nations see themselves. So that’s unfolding. And then we’re seeing, you know, I see it almost as fear as a policy driver. That’s what I think in some ways. That’s what I mean. You think Covid as coming in at a time. And given that a government with an authoritarian bent, the understanding and notice of how you can bring policies much more easily when there is fear at the basis of it. So and then people just want to get things done or want things simple. And that’s maybe what people have seen towards Hartlepool. And they just want, they don’t want introspection. They just need to feel safe and secure in their in their lives, and that the jobs that they feel are disappearing will come to them. And it’s who can meet those interests, those immediate interests, that are coming up because of fear. That’s what I’m seeing at this particular moment. And how best to how best can we , can progressive forces meet those and satisfy those fears, pwhile at the same time being and saying that more democracy is what we need, not less?
Manda: Yes. And offering something that feels real. So two things come up for me when you say that. One is one of my very first teachers, when I started out on any kind of spiritual path a very long time ago, said that there are only two emotions in the world. There is love and there is fear and everything arises from one or other of those. And it has always seemed to me as someone of the progressive left that on the whole, and definitely not exclusively, but those most aligned to the concept of progress are motivated by love, and those most aligned to the concept of reaction are motivated by fear. And yes, I’m sure you’re right that particularly the voters in Hartlepool, so for people outside the UK, somebody died, there was a by-election for that particular constituency and it had been Labour since its inception way, way, way back. And it fell to the Tories by a reasonable margin. But what struck me, when you look beyond all of the sound and noise that the press made about, oh, my goodness, Labour is collapsing, was 60 percent of the potential vote did not turn out in that by-election. So the Tories yet again got something like 23 percent of the vote, which seems to be what they get. It’s just that the rest aren’t, are either not voting at all or that the progressive vote manages to split itself across many, many separate factions. And so on that 23 percent, which scarily enough is exactly what propelled Hitler into power as well, the Tories are then able to claim that they have a mandate, because this is how our entire political system works. And so if we are going to craft something that will speak to people and yet is not based in fear. Have you a felt sense of what that is? How we can get ourselves as progressives out of the dead end that we seem to have locked ourselves into?
Mothiur: Hmm. I love what you said there about love and fear as the two basic emotions, because that really gives a good structuring by which to really, well to consider not just like all the different systemic levels at which decisions are being made. And one of the other things that I noticed as well about that by-election was the blaming and shaming then of Angela Rayner, she was the deputy leader and a woman. And this is a different class, comes from a different background to the leader. And it’s one of those things that is really invisible. People don’t want to talk about it. They go, we’ve got beyond class now. But actually, when we think about the divisions in Labour and in the country, the two factors of class and race, and using those factors as ways in which to divide and control, we need to understand that better, but not to understand it in a way that just goes introspective, but to say, how do we make our society more equal, more just? And when fear is often being used as a policy driver or scarcity mindset, we’re so used to that mindset, and blaming ourselves rather than looking how do we move beyond this to say, and also not to divide. Because when you said about someone more motivated by fear and some motivatrd by love, I would say all are motivated in some extent by love, whether it’s a love of tradition and the past and the history, and wanting to maintain that, or the love of the new, the love of the desire to see how can you do something different.
Mothiur: And they’re both love, but they, and you might respond differently. To me it’s about how you might respond to something arising, like whether you hold or cling on to something even more strongly because you feel the fear of losing it, or because you love it in some way. But the response to that, I think that’s something about a different mindset that we’ve got to understand. And that love is fundamental, I think, to all of those emotions. I will just redirect the quote of Martin Luther King. I think he said something like, The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. And by that he means the arc of the morality of each particular moment might look like you’re in going a different direction, but it’s bending slowly towards justice. So and I would move also the word justice with love. So the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards love. But we are in particular moments within that arc and we may say, oh, but it’s bending towards fear this here and there, and or the law is not meeting the needs, but I feel we need to just take that step back, and really connect with these feelings of love that arise from different kinds of interests and different kinds of outlooks.
Manda: Ok, that brings up a lot, too. And I hear you. I spoke last week to a gentleman called John Wood of a group called Braver Angels in the US that’s designed to help bring people together across the political divide. And he is a young black man who was part of, he was active in getting Obama elected way back. And now he stands for the Republican Party, which does very strange things to my internal cognitive dissonance. And he’s very clearly very used to people of the left having that cognitive dissonance. So we didn’t go there because there was no point. And I am sure that he would agree with you that his version of Republicanism is based on love, and particularly of love of tradition. What I find, and what is probably part of my own tribalism and I need to get over it, but even so, is that we on what we would call the progressive left, what I would consider to be the ones who are desperately trying to heal people and the planet, is that we put quite a lot of our bandwidth into trying to understand the other side. And John Wood, and the Braver Angels apart, I have never met anyone of the right who put any bandwidth at all into trying to understand the motivations of the people on the left. Partly because they can simply roll over us, I think, certainly now at a point when the Tories are now 82 seats in the majority in the UK Parliament.
Manda: I sometimes occasionally approach those people who are Tory activists that I know and suggest something Braver Angels, a meeting across the divide and they are so not interested, because they have no fear of us at all. There’s no reason for them to reach out because we are no threat. And that for them, the only reason to reach out would be to nullify a threat. I suspect that north of the border in Scotland, that might be slightly different. And one of the things that I’m finding really interesting about that set of elections is they have PR north of the border. The English government is now endeavouring to strip PR from every form of voting in England, but if we had first past the post in Scotland, there would now be an absolutely overwhelming majority for the Scottish National Party in the parliament. Because there’s PR, there is much more balance. And much as I want Scotland to be independent, I think a balanced political unit making decisions is always going to make better decisions in the long run. So that was that was me ranting, really. I’m kind of interested in where does that take you? And also then what is it? How do we move towards a more just society when we have currently in government people for whom justice seems to involve othering large groups of people, then destroying them?
Mothiur: Yeah, yeah. It’s opened up some things for me. And when you say, yeah, large amounts of energy is spent trying to understand the other side by the progressive forces, that’s where I think, so there’s a something that’s happening that is unjust. And then there’s a response like we need to understand the other side. I don’t think that is necessarily the solution to be had, because the law itself, so we have different sides. And the whole point of democracy is to have a system of law that enables equality between all those different voices, so that fairness and justice emerges. And we haven’t paid enough attention to the law, the structuring that law provides, because I think Conservatives maybe give much more emphasis to that. So, as you were mentioning, no, not hardly anyone is mentioning about this massive difference that it makes by the mayors in England who were elected. There were eight Labour mayors that were elected, and now the government’s looking to change the structuring by which voting happens so that it will side towards that, towards the Conservatives.
Mothiur: It’s called gerrymandering. That’s the name that’s been used for it before. And this has a, and then in Scotland, the Electoral College. But I just want to point this out, because it’s something I just found out recently as well. The Electoral College in the US, you know, we talk about fairness and equality in the US, but the whole point of the Electoral College was to prevent, it was to do with slavery and related to shifting how voting can be enacted. You know, and we talk about democracy in Greece, but in ancient Greece and Athens. But that also was about restricting who had the right to vote. So the rules by which we create fairness is as important as the content. And if we don’t, that’s the… so the threat would be if we can actually grasp the constitutional aspects of the legal system, which is now being captured, to no longer work towards the aims of a just society. That’s what I feel, as if the law itself has been captured, and we need to free the law.
Manda: Ok, so let’s unpick for people who aren’t constitutional experts, how the law in various countries is being captured, and what you mean by that. Can you open that up a bit?
Mothiur: Yeah. So I teach a little bit of constitutional law and I’ve been working in public law in my capacity as a solicitor and I’m doing my freelance work, but I’m trying to shift that whole. Where I’m working is I can go into is on a solution called new unilateralism. But just to give the history in a way like as I see constitutionalism almost need to think about the history of how, yeah, I want to kind of not go into too much detail, but I guess in a simple way of saying is that the economy, law and justice kind of go together. And when I say economy, the economy is round the allocation of resources, and who gets to allocate the resources. That’s the economy. And so, you know, like 12th century England, the economy was around wood, around timber and for ships, for military building. And so there was a enclosure of those by the king and the charter of the forest was about opening up that, enclosures, that the ordinary labourers could start foraging for their own subsistence. So that’s what we need to think about. When you think about it kind of in a much wider sense about who gets to allocate the resources, who’s making the decisions, and the law is the tool by which that happens. And justice is the felt sense of living in a fair and meaningful society where we are each as individuals are respected. And they all come together in the idea, you could say of the political economy, that the economy and the political are together, and the law is a tool by which we structure our political economy.
And I would say, when I say captured, what I mean by that I’d say is we are captured by fundamentalism of a kind, and we know some kinds of fundamentalism. And we go with those are bad. But when we see, one thing that has been invisible, it is market fundamentalism. So markets are there as a tool to, for the allocation of resources. And you could say there are different tools by which we can allocate resources. So you could have the market to allocate resources. You could have a socialist government that would allocate resources, which is by its kind of ideas and principles that it would set out its policy. You could have cities, states setting out allocation resources. But what I’m saying is that markets are there as a function of a society. But fundamentalism is where the market becomes the society. So we’re in a market society where the fundamentalism is that the market is the fundamentalist ideology, that the market will create a just society in of itself and only the market will do that. And everything bends towards that arc rather than towards its own thing of the two things together. So I’m saying the law had been captured by this fundamentalist ideology. And so we’re not having a system of law that supports other needs, or the human needs that is ascribed to what we mean by democracy.
Manda: Ok, so if I’m hearing you right, this is back to Kate Raworth, the author of Doughnut Economics, who said that what we need is an economy that works for the good of the people instead of the people working for the good of the economy or the market. And what we have at the moment is a political and legal systemic structure that is designed to take and hold on to power so that the power has the ability to allocate resources to its own ends, effectively. So what we have in real terms is a government in the UK that, for instance, gave one of the biggest civil contracts ever awarded to its friends for PPE in the coronavirus crisis without any kind of opening out, they didn’t offer it to anybody else. They just decided that their friends needed £8000 a day and they were going to give it to them from public money. So they are giving themselves the ability to do this on an ever wider scale. And one of the things that I think you’re alluding to, particularly in the U.K., but we’re seeing it at a state level in the US and in other places around the world, is the government seizing control, and then using the tools of democracy to destroy democracy from the inside.
Manda: So our government, if it goes ahead with what it said in the Queen’s Speech, is intending to remove legal oversight of itself as one part of this, so that it’s no longer possible for the courts to go, you know, what you just did is illegal. They won’t be able to do that anymore. And at the same time, they’re endeavouring to make it harder for people to vote using US style voter suppression tactics that have been very well finessed by the southern states in the US and are now coming over here. So starting with you would need photo ID in order to vote, and that would mean a driving licence or a passport. And the people who have driver’s licences and passports tend to be older, white and better off. And the people who have neither and are never going to get either are the people who are poor, not white, or young. So then we end up with a government that creates a single party state and is unassailable, in our country, in England, I have hopes that Scotland and Wales may fracture off. Is this is this what you’re referring to? And have I got it right?
Mothiur: I think, yeah, there’s a lot in there. So there’s the cronyism that you were mentioning at the beginning. Let’s just stay with that, I think. Yeah, there are different sort of interests doing different things, but all aiming to against sort of a anti progressive kind of forces. So cronyism. So power isn’t bad in and of itself. It’s how the law or the rule of law, I mean, that’s the idea. The rule of law is the idea, is the principle that the Magna Carta was brought in through force and pressure by the barons. Because the king originally was seen as the sole authority by divine right. The big thing about the Magna Carta was it was just the barons who were getting some distribution of that power, but it was a document began setting out the rules by which everyone, even the king, needed to abide by. And it’s that evolution of, that line of thinking that leads then towards the idea of constitutionalism. And there are two forms of constitutionalism. There’s political constitutionalism and legal constitutionalism. Legal constitutionalism is where you’re, where the law itself, so you have a codified constitution so that the US political constitution is more where the idea that the constitution of the country and democracy will arise, the political forces create the balance itself. And we are much more ascribed towards this idea of a political constitution. We don’t, we’re one of three countries in the world that doesn’t have a codified constitution.
Manda: What are the other two?
Mothiur: Israel and New Zealand.
Manda: I think Iran?
Mothiur: Even Iran, I think might have a constitution. But some constitutions are just a fig leaf. So someone said they’re not real constitution or they’re not constitutions in the sense of of providing equality of power. For example, you know, after when Cornwall was in power. So you could almost ascribe this perioid to that time as well. Cromwell, what, sixteen, seventeen hundreds. That, I mean when we talk about constitutions as well, we often talk about the Treaty of Westphalia, which is around 1650, which was the treaty which set out the idea of state sovereignty. And that’s also another huge sort of idea, that the state has sovereignty over a particular territory. But that was led because of all the wars, the religious wars. There was Luther, Martin Luther, Protestantism, which was coming out. And so the territory, again is about economy as well. But where the pope or the Catholic and the Roman Catholic Church, there’s another body coming in with different ideas and so on, different, not aligned with that interest. And so, you know, in northern Europe, and so you had these religious wars and state wars that were going around for the Hundred Years War, the 30 years War, eight million people dying. And then this treaty trying to establish some sense of peace, of honour, of the rules by which peace could happen. And state sovereignty was one of them. I was talking about political constitutionalism and legal constitutionalism. So you’ve come to this, the idea of state sovereignty.
Manda: And I think Hobbes’ idea of the nation as a political unit that has a monopoly of violence within its borders is a really interesting one and useful as a concept of what a state is, particularly in the UK. We are defined by the fact that we’re an island, you know, our borders are where the sea starts, but pretty much anywhere else on the big landmass is the border is where the political force stops having the monopoly on violence, and another force has a monopoly on violence, and that border has to be respected because they both have an equal monopoly on an equal size of violence. And I find that quite an interesting concept.
Mothiur: And not just violence, but also on resources, resource allocation. So the capacity to raise taxes and then have the force of violence behind that is another, bringing the economy and violence together. Where I was going to go with political constitutionalism is that the balance of powers is raised not just by, we don’t have a written, codified constitution, which is beyond the idea of this parliament making the laws, which where you could strike down a law of parliament because it’s not in line with the Constitution, which you have in the States, because the forces of politics, of who we bring in or the conventions of parliament, and even the idea that somehow we’re a bit more gentlemanly in England. And so we’ve got this kind of we don’t need that kind of level of codification, is there. So if that gets captured, or those forces that are not properly visible, how power is used, this is what I was trying to get to. If, so power is not necessarily bad. It’s what is made visible and what’s left invisible. So again, so that’s the cronyism. That’s Greensill with David Cameron. So that’s a massive thing when you really think about it in these terms, that you have an organisation for, all it’s doing is some kind of financialization of the economy. It’s moving money around in a way that makes more money for some for people who want to make more money, who’ve already got capital, and you’re using your connections to be able to do something. But we don’t even have the conventions or the real understanding or a set of laws by which actually this is all set out. It’s meant to be done by convention. So the judiciary don’t really have a role over the conventions of parliaments. And so we saw a lot of that happening in Brexit and so on. We had to work out what the boundaries were of some of the conventions, the ramp up of prorogation and also, you know, with Article 50.
Manda: Ok, so let’s go down this rabbit hole a bit. But we need to clarify things for people who are not in the UK. So. Taking a step back, I think Greensill is a really interesting example, so for people not in the UK or people who don’t obsessively follow politics and who are in the U.K., it was, as Mothiur says, a financial business. And the former prime minister, David Cameron, the one I think really ironically came into power saying that lobbying was the big scandal in British politics, and that he was going to clean it up. And he was then dissuaded from cleaning it up, presumably by powerful lobbying, has then become a lobbyist for a company in which he has a stake. So he apparently and he says he didn’t, but it is alleged that he was telling people how many millions of pounds, many millions, he stood to gain if his lobbying was successful, such that this particular company got certain contracts from the government. And as Mothiur says, we in the UK don’t have a written constitution that stands in the way of that. And I think that’s partly because when our government was devised, when the rules that regulate it, such as they are, were laid down, anyone likely to be elected had come from one of a very small handful of public schools. They all assumed that they all lived by the same values. And those values were largely imperial, because our politics and government were broadly created during an imperial era. I would say we’re at the dying end of that imperial era and that it started with the Roman Empire, if not with the Greek empire. But that’s a separate conversation.
I think it was taken for granted that they all lived by the same rules. And as you said, they were gentlemanly, and that has two things, it has class and it has gender built into that word. A gentleman was of a certain class, and they were a man. And therefore there was no requirement for anything to be put in writing because words, as we’ve seen in the US, it is possible to parse sentences down so they no longer have any meaning. The entire gun rights lobby takes a concept of the legal right to have an armed militia, and turns it into the right for any human being to have assault grade weapons that can, as we have seen, wipe out many hundreds of people. And so in many ways, not having a written constitution has possibly been safer. But David Allen Green, the amazing constitutional lawyer at the time of Brexit, and even since, has been quite clear on the point of a written constitution could have been useful. But what we have now is a government led by a man who believes that laws don’t apply to him. So even when we have engaged in a treaty, for instance, with the EU, particularly with regard to Northern Ireland, they are busy explaining why those rules actually don’t apply to them anymore and that the EU’s attempts to go, but you signed up to this, this is what it says, are in fact, a wrecking action on the part of the EU. And so I wonder where it takes us?
I have two questions. One is where does that take us? And second, in the slightly paranoid world that I live in where Steve Bannon is running our government behind the scenes, and I have read the book Democracy in Chains, which does detail how to destroy democracy from the inside by people who are very clear that democracy and their form of market fundamentalism are not compatible. So I am left staring at what’s happening, thinking this is not an accident. It’s extremely deliberate, and it’s very clear where it takes us. It takes us to Steve Bannon’s white supremacist patriarchal theocracy, which is his stated aim. And I wonder, am I being simply over paranoid or is this where we’re headed? So there’s lots of questions there. It’s very broad. You can pick up whichever of those rabbit holes appeals to you most, Mothiur. Go for it.
Mothiur: Yeah, thanks for reminding me. Yeah, it’s an international audience you have. And so I just wanted to sort of scope out some of the things that are more broad brush strokes just to help the thinking you’re bringing in. So I just want to … if you can think of it in terms of like the rules by which the game is being played, or I don’t wanna call it a game, but it’s the way by which we can find meaning in our lives, and narrowing it down to the idea of the state. So we’ve got three bodies, three main bodies there in any sort of country will normally have, if they’re following kind of a democratic structure. You’ve got a body which represents the people. In England that’s parliament, maybe the Congress or the Senate in the States, you know, so they represent the people, maybe direct or usually representative democracy. So one person will represent a group of people in the territory and they come together and they make the laws on behalf of the people. And then you have a government, or an executive which enacts and brings those laws into force. So it has an operationalising aspect, so the government. And then you’ve got the judiciary, which is a kind of an oversight body, to make sure that the executive doesn’t overstep itself in enacting the law. So it doesn’t take too much power. So you can bring an action against governments that you’ve stepped over, that the law says this. You have interpreted it this way, and that’s going too far. Judiciary then, because they are the arbiters of justice, will say, yes, this is the law and the executive got it wrong, or they’ll say no, the executive are right, within the remits of what the law has said. So those are the three bodies. And it’s a kind of a balance between those three bodies. What you were, I think you’re alluding to with Boris Johnson, breaking is even a more fundamental principle, I think that is embedded in our consciousness, which is called the rule of law. I think. It’s not a thing, but it is a concept in law. And it just means that we all have equality before the law. And how that is measured and how it’s understood, it can be different, but fundamentally that there should be no, nobody should be treated better than anybody else. And I think Lord Denning, who is one of the, in the House of Lords, is a really quite famous judge. He said something like, however high you may think you are, the law is higher still. And what he meant by that is the rule of law, the idea of the rule of law. So no matter how high your status is, the rule of law, that concept means you are still subject to it. What Boris did, in a way, is undermine that very principle, like in order to meet immediate needs, and meet particular things at this particular moment is, as you said, unravelling the very structure by which we understand a system that has taken so long to put together around having all these wars and so on.
Mothiur: And we have got a system of, you know, you could say that the idea of Europe was part of that to try to bring more peace. But the unravelling of even the idea that once you’ve made an agreement that you’ll keep to that agreement, if somebody, any one person can break that agreement, what’s to stop anybody else saying well, I can just put a law in now, because I know nobody is going to come back to me, somebody else already done this. You know, it’s a slow erosion of this concept, and it’s a hollowing out of the basic fundamental sort of sense. And I think that’s what’s creating the fear in some ways in ourselves, because we don’t know what to hold on to anymore, because our world pictures are so… there’s no basis. And part of the reason there’s no basis, no ground to hold onto, to other influences. Well, one other influence that is massive now that wasn’t there, you could say, when we were thinking about what institutions are so important to have a balance of power. And that’s the of the media by which information is circulated and, you know, it was pamphlets and printing press a few hundred years ago. And now it’s far higher than that. And there’s still not enough control over that.
Speaker3: There is no… Murdoch can have, be an owner of of a press and it took an enquiry in England to sort of even to put down some very soft laws on controlling them. But to bring more accountability to the media, I think is a really important aspect of bringing into a kind of thinking around the Constitution. And the other thing I want to bring in as well is how the demographics and how we are situated in the country, not in small rural communities, but now in cities and much more in cities, and cities themselves as as a place where this rubbing against each other happens, where this is what I was saying about Brighton at the beginning, maybe a little bit, but essential to rub up against people with different values, different ways of looking at the world, not only just to understand them, but to know that there are, that your view isn’t necessarily the only. And it’s that’s what I call the civic, I don’t know, the civic texture. And that’s kind of what maybe people are waking up to it, because of the loss, because of Covid and being in isolation, what the civic texture is. It’s the texture of a meeting people in the streets, of rubbing up against each other and small interactions, and the city as a place of that, of a site of agency for that to arise is also something interesting that could be a counterforce to the state monopoly.
Manda: Yes, particularly if we have activist mayors who are part of the C40, which is actually now a C97 of very progressive mayors who are working together. And on their website, they reckon that they are now, have oversight of 25 percent of the entire global GDP, which is, becomes then a very significant political unit. So this is really interesting. I think what we’re walking towards is that potentially institutions that we have taken absolutely for granted, particularly the concept that the rule of law exists, that, as you said, nobody is above the law. I love that Denning quote, however high you may think you are, the law is higher still. But we are currently led by someone who, from the age of five, stated that he wanted to be king of the world. He doesn’t want anything higher than him. And he has, by the vagaries of our political system, got the power to put himself above the law. So. Given that that is the case and seems to be happening, what can we do personally, with our own personal agency, and collectively as groups of people, to find a way forward that isn’t either anarchy or totalitarian autocracy?
Mothiur: I’ve been a member of Extinction Rebellion for a long time, almost since its inception, and having taken part in strategy meetings and really understanding this principle of disruption to bring forth dilemmas by which you’re working outside the existing system, to bring something that disrupts the system as it is. That’s what the roadblocking was, in a way, and the mass, because it causes the dilemma of whether to have mass arrests, which brings public media interest, or to let it happen, which also brings lots of public media interest. And so the disruption is happening already. So we’ve seen just recently, and I mean the disruption between, and bringing the questions of the difference between law and justice, and starting conversations. I think we need to start thinking much more deeply about assumptions that we’ve had, so that we can start breaking them down and reformulating things to work towards the civic interest. Because the public interest, the idea and that’s another thing that’s in law, the public interest. But that concept has been captured by state bodies. There’s been a politicisation of the state, of the agencies like the environment agency, of what it means to be acting in the public interest.
I’ll give you a particular example of that. That was around fracking four years ago. And I was doing a lot of work on the anti fracking movement. And there was a report, so Defra, which is the agency for oversight of Environment and Rural Affairs, they commissioned a report to look into the effects, some of the impacts of fracking on health. And this was about the same time as there was going to be a planning application by one of the one of the oil fracking companies in a particular region. So the regional body, the planning authority was going to make a decision. The results of the commission report was detrimental, well, critical of those impacts. DEFRA then prevented, there’s a Guardian article about it, prevented its publication so that until after the decision was made by the public body. That’s what I mean by the politicisation of the public interest, because that should have been out there for the public to be making the decisions, or not for a particular state. So the state now begins to act for its interests, rather than for the interests… so you need to have, we need to have clear boundaries between what we mean by the public interest, the state interest, or the state is when it starts beginning to act, to hold on to power. And so is acting for its own interests rather than in the wider sense and the interests of what needs to be there and for deliberation.
Yeah, the other thing I just want to mention about disruption, and this is more current, so just taking what XR has been doing, and its impact. So there’s been some recent cases before the court. One was a jury trial with the Shell seven, sometimes called the Shell six, but six people took a plea of not guilty, but they were found by the judge and directed by the judge to be found because of what they’d done, factually they were guilty of the offence. But the jury found them not guilty. So that’s in a way, the whole idea of the jury, of justice and the law now not quite meeting. I don’t want to go intolaw and equity. But there is a kind of interesting parallel between law, the black letter of the law and equity, the principle of equity, which is that sometimes the black letter of the law, doesn’t come to just decisions. So equity, the principle of equity, was to allow a judge to bring something else in that would meet the remedy that would be more equitable than the black letter itself stands for. So there’s already this concept that the letter of the law might not necessarily always lead to just outcomes. So that’s the jury trial. The other thing I want to mention is two cases, really interesting. I think one of them was on your show I was listening to, but Justin Kenrick, who’s an XR member in Scotland, and he was found, so I understand, he was found not guilty, even though he admitted to the to the offence, the judge at the magistrate’s level found him not guilty. And I think it’s going to be an appeal on that by the Crown Prosecution Service, which was be really interesting to see how those arguments come out in relation to that.
Manda: Yes. And I think those are both very heartening, and a great testament to the power of jury trials, because, as you said, with the Shell individuals, they pled not guilty in order to get a jury trial, and the statement that I read by one of the individuals was really interesting, because he listed at the end the times when people had acted against the letter of the law. So the Kindertransport, getting Jewish children out of German held territories was against the letter of the law. The women who fought for the right for women to vote were going against the letter of the law. He listed a whole number and he said, What I have done without question is against the letter of the law. But we have listed for you the reasons why we believe, and what they’d done was written graffiti on the Shell buildings in London. So. they had defaced a physical monument, a physical building, and, yes, that is against the letter of the law. And yet we believe that Shell is creating vast quantities of environmental destruction perfectly legally, and therefore, we believe the law needs to be changed. And this is what we’re doing. And as you said, the jury found them unanimously not guilty, despite the judge having said, directed them to find him guilty.
Manda: And similarly, Justin did say exactly on this podcast that he just had a very good conversation with the judge, with the solicitors, with everybody. He went yep, I sat in the road. All other avenues to me had been blocked, and I believed that the situation is dire enough that this needs to happen. And, yes, the Crown Prosecution Service has required, or asked for, an appeal. So as we’re heading down towards the end, I’d really like to begin to bring people to a sense of where can we go in the UK and internationally? Because it feels as if governments, with obvious exceptions like Biden in the U.S., are becoming more authoritarian and possibly that they have some support. I listened to a podcast recently with Vince Cable speaking to Compass, which is one of those groups that’s advocating for PR and also for a progressive alliance in the U.K. And he had been on a Zoom call with a big polling body that they believed who said that 50 percent of the people they polled wanted there to be no change at all, no political change, nothing, everything to be cast in aspic, which I think is what you were talking about earlier of that love of tradition. And the other 50 percent were desperate for radical change now. The problem was that the 50 percent that wanted no change tended to be old middle class or upper and white. And these are the people who vote. This is how we have a government in the UK with an 80 seat majority, so an unassailable majority, on 23 percent of the total potential vote. Because the people who vote for them actually turn out. And the people who don’t want them either fracture the vote amongst many different parties, or just don’t turn up because they don’t think that voting has consequences. So. If the government in power has an authoritarian bent, is inclined to either ignore the law or put itself above the law, has a tendency to want to capture resource allocation and flood it into the people with whom they are very close friends, and has the capacity to change the law such that it will be very, very difficult to remove them from power absent a revolution, which is almost certainly impossible now that we have the state surveillance capacity of Facebook and Google and GCHQ, what can we do to change things in time? Because we are the people who do believe that there is a climate, an ecological emergency. How can we act in ways that are in line with our view of the world as a flourishing and potentially beautiful place?
Mothiur: I wrote an article for Resurgence and Ecologist just before the first XR Rebellion, and I was trying to put a perspective in the article around, I can’t remember the social scientist, but the social scientist had done some research around collapse of different civilisations through history. And he said the common factor that he found between those collapses ended up with the oligarchical authorities. And that can be different, when I say oligarchical is the authorities which have control over the systems of power and resource distribution, maybe priests in different eras. So short term interests unravel the longer term interests of the society that they’re, everybody’s interests were based upon, because we are focussing so much on the short term. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing now. Now, what the argument was trying to put in the article is that most, when we think about the oligarchical authorities, we’ve got the state bodies, you could say, which are very tied in to the the markets, those which believe in market ideology, market fundamentalists. And those two are very tied together. And so you could either attack either of those. But my argument was, what if rather there’s a third body, which is civil society, and they’re the ones with the longer term interests, we need to strengthen the longer term interests to really bring that up at the same time as a just, because the attacking is one way of targeting, but the strengthening of civil society.
Speaker3: And that to me was part of what XR was doing was this longer term picture of strengthening, giving the literacy, because the literacy is missing in our society, just the very basic economic facts or the… let people make their own decisions – once they are given facts. And I’ll point to a particular example, and this was the Scotland in one which I mentioned in the earlier podcast we did. But in Scotland, when Scotland put forward its public consultation and we went to the communities, we didn’t campaign and advocate for a particular position. We were trying to be impartial and gave the information to them, because a lot of them were saying they’re going to give us jobs and they’re going to do this. And then we said we’ll go deeper into it. And this is the information they got. Hang on a second, the money’s going elsewhere. Who are these people that it’s going to, go out or it’s not going to stay, all the better stuff is going outside. And they began questioning all that. And so by allowing people to deliberate, and this is again, the citizens assemblies, the people’s assemblies, this is all part of inot just XR but wider. I think we need to strengthen economic democracy, legal democracy, the ideas, and give agency to people who don’t normally have agency that are seen as beneficiaries. So citizens at the bottom end of society, the most deprived, those who have been affected, impacted most by Covid 19, those who still are being treated as beneficiaries or we’ll find ways to grant them funding, or so on.
Speaker3: But the agency of who makes those economic decisions still lie in a particular class. So we need to widen who’s making those those decisions, and trust the people. In the end, we’ve got to trust the people and that they will make better decisions. And when it comes to that curve that you were saying that 50 percent don’t want no change. I remember Polly Higgins when she was alive. She was one of my inspirations. And one thing she brought up Simon Sinek, who’s this theorist, and he talks about the normal curve. So you drop a normal curve, so that’s the curve of innovation and change. The middle bit, nobody wants change, of course, that’s the norm. But we need to…. and then the bottom, the pioneers they’re like a tiny proportion. Then after the early pioneers, there’s the next, very small band of people who are the ones who go either way. And they the people we target, like the people who was, who like the GP, I forgot her name, who was, she was arrested. So, you know, Dr Sarah Benn with XR. 30 years being a doctor with the NHS, always law abiding. She sits in the middle of the road for the protests and is found not guilty by, again, as well as Justin, she’s also somebody the magistrates found not guilty. Bcause of what, the honesty and her understanding that she was now one of these early adapters to a different way of doing things. So I think that focus, and bringing those to what’s happening, the disruption between law and justice, getting people to start thinking a bit deeper about these issues and holding those conversations well, but not trying to advocate, not to on board in the way of like, we’ve got an agenda behind this, is allowing the liberation of, and having respect for the autonomy of individuals, and that we will come to better decisions if we allow that autonomy, but widen the autonomy.
The other thing I just want to mention as well, I think it’s really important, is what you were saying about, I don’t remember how you mentioned it, but the way I just wrote it down was about protest, and the power of protest. Yeah, people were found not guilty. You mentioned about Justin, and the statements they made, they were also pointing out something that’s really important. And academics and legal academics are also, and the law also recognises this is important. So Connor Gearty is a human rights lawyer, wrote a book called The Struggle for Civil Liberties. And I also mentioned in the article that I wrote in Resurgence, and because he’s writing about it, saying that the civil liberties never came through those who already had power, it was it was claimed by those, and what we see now as normal was the claiming of more rights for those who were disenfranchised at that particular moment. And the law recognises that protest is an important accountability and negative feedback loop against the excessive grabbing of power by those who already have power. So protest, that’s why the policing, part of the reason, I think when the covid happened, that there was an exemption for political protest up to that, so long as, you know, to a larger numbers and were allowed in other circumstances because the importance of protest to prevent the overgrabbing or the grabbing of power is such an important thing. And now we’re seeing under the Policing Bill, which is trying to be forced through, how the story in the narrative that the government is trying to put on that and the media can bring that. And it’s just a very surfacey kind of idea of what is legitimate or illegitimate. And we need to broaden and give the tools to people to understand what is legitimacy, what legitimates political power. Because they’re not necessarily, we don’t need to go into complications, but by bringing the simple tools to understand by their own lived experience, what is happening, I think will strengthen that civil force that we really need to be a counterforce to the other two the oligarchicy of the state and the market.
Manda: And do you think, we’re nearly out of time, but this feels huge. So, again, for people outside the UK, the government’s Policing Bill is endeavouring to bring in something that I think is incredibly dangerous, because basically it’s setting up a 10 year potential prison sentence for anyone who causes annoyance, and they haven’t defined annoyance. And I have a strong feeling that we could get 100,000 people in Trafalgar Square in support of Israel and Tommy Robinson, as we saw last night at the time of it, wasn’t 100000. There was a large number of people draped in Israeli flags yesterday, and the police made a very pleasant cordon around them. And I don’t suspect that would be considered annoying at all. But if you or I walked down the street talking into a mobile phone and they decide that’s annoying, then we could be liable for 10 years in prison. And certainly they are targeting XR. Absolutely, because toppling of statues, targeting XR and Black Lives Matter, toppling of statues or sitting in roads are explicitly defined as things that might cause annoyance. And so for those of us who went and sat in roads a long time ago, October 2019, a 10 year sentence is very, very different to what we thought we were up for at those points. And it seems to me that, yes, we can try to strengthen the civil arm, but we have a government that’s moving very fast to clamp that down. And we are up against a climate emergency that, as far as I can tell, we have basically got eight years to turn the ship of our market fundamentalist economy around. And I’m not seeing a government that is inclined to do that. How do you see us in a couple of years time, when this policing bill has gone through, when people don’t dare go and sit in the streets, when even hanging a banner from a motorway overpass might be considered an annoyance? What are we going to do?
Mothiur: Yeah, well, we need to learn from history and see the parallels, and what has worked. So this bringing of the Policing Bill, you know, the chilling effect that it has on protest, it makes me think of Britain as it was in the Raj and my ancestors in Bangladesh. And but when they brought in the salt laws against another form of violence or injustice, people were, ordinary people were up in arms. And it was but it was Gandhi with his understanding and his capacity for satyagraha. I’m trying to pronounce it how my mum would have pronounced it. Satya means truth, and graha to pull, or to bring out. And so this idea of truth force, satyagraha. So this, and like the lady I just mentioned earlier, her sitting there, the truthfulness of what she said, what Justin said, is what led to the not guilty. And the more we can come out and bring the government into ridicule, this is not, because it’s a ridiculous thing. It’s not just that we can.. take it seriously and go ten years, oh, my God. Should we really to go out in the streets? But, you know, if there are ways in which we can ridicule the government for it, which was what was happening when they tried to block any protests in all of London after the October rebellion. And I think a number of people started putting little signs up saying I’m a protester, or something. We just need to be aware of how we can ridicule, and how the power of ridicule to actually make something that seems really strong seem a bit silly. And have it really brought into lots of people’s minds, and to go across the boundaries of our traditional right and left because there are ways in which it has happened. It’s about fairness. I would say one of the characteristics of the population that of this country, which is is fairness, is the sense of fairness. And when Cummings went and drove, you know, that sense of unfairness cut across all the divides, it’s like, why would he, why is he allowed to do it and not us? You know, and it’s that, it’s something about bringing to face what these authorities are doing, and finding those in that band I was saying about, between the very pioneers of change and the early adopters of it, a cross cultural party of those who no longer, can no longer believe that this government is on the right track towards, within this period of time, towards the right, towards justice, towards the needs of of our communities.
Manda: Ok, that feels like a very good place to end because it sounds slightly hopeful, which I was beginning to get quite depressed. So let’s leave it there. Unless there’s anything that you wanted to say that we haven’t got to.
Mothiur: You mentioned Kate Raworth and her work with Doughnut Economics. And I think that’s such a positive… and this is where we’re moving away from just the disruption towards what new things can we bring in as well to to shift our economy, other ways of thinking about the economy and our structuring. And she’s made, she’s done that in Amsterdam because Amsterdam as a city is progressive. And so this is what I was saying about cities. And you were mentioning as well with these radical cities and mayors coming together, are they called brave cities?
Manda: They could be, it’s under the rubric of the C40 because there were originally 40 of them that came together. And we happen to be interviewing someone from Amsterdam in a couple of weeks time.
Mothiur: Oh, brilliant. So in England, that’s also, you know, we need to bring, and it’s called new municipalism is that idea that is gathering pace. And for me, new municipalism is you could say you’ve got, if you’ve got the state as allocation of resources and you’ve got the market allocation resources, new municipalism is saying the people in the city that can be under different kinds of, would operate under different values and can create a different kind of localised economy for the benefit of the communities that they live in within that place. And there’s different ways in which it can emerge. Preston, something called a Preston model, where it’s emerged in Preston, Plymouth, is doing some amazing things now, being the first social enterprise city. So these are local places. And with the mayors as well as you’re saying, we’ve got decentralised, a devolved power to mayors. So there’s an opportunity there for those mayors to really grab onto that and to show and to demonstrate good outcomes. That’s what I think you’re saying about people don’t want change. What they want to see is no change to.. they want to see jobs. They want see security and want to see people doing that. And there’s no reason why progressive forces can’t do that. And demonstrate that, and that’s what we need to see.
Manda: Brilliant, right. That’s been fantastic. Thank you Mothiur, for coming back on to Accidental Gods.
Mothiur: Thanks, Manda. Thanks.
Manda: So that’s it for another week. Enormous thanks to Mothiur for his depth of knowledge of what the law is and where it goes, and his ability to find bright shoots anywhere it could go, inevitably after we stopped recording, we continue the conversation. And we talked a lot about work that he is doing and funds he is attempting to raise in areas of the UK where deprivation is biting really hard, where years of being abandoned by Westminster governments have led to chronic unemployment and Covid then layered on top of that, and how the building of community is the way forward, how giving people the agency and the power and the understanding that goes beyond the brief headlines at the top of the hour in the music stations, or the front page of the right wing tabloids, is the key to what we can do and how we can move beyond the crisis of governance that we now face. Because it is a crisis of governance, we do have a very short time, and we have a government that basically runs by PR and fancy headlines, and underneath is hollowing out our democracy.
That’s in the U.K. and it may be different where you are. But a lot of the world governments do seem to be talking to each other, and sharing their best practices for creating the most authoritarian version of a pseudo democracy. So on that cheerful note, we will be back next week with another conversation. Next week, I hope and believe we’re going to Amsterdam to talk to one of the C40 cities that is about to become a doughnut economic city. So that should be somewhat brighter. If you want the show notes with links to anything that Mothiur mentioned, then we’re on AccidentalGods.Life and the membership programme is there. And the Patreon Link, if you want that nice, warm, fuzzy feeling of supporting the podcast. And if you know of anybody else who wants to be part of the generative dance of the world, then please do send them this link. And that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.
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