Over 400 years ago today, Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators placed 20 barrels of gunpowder beneath the British House of Lords. Today, the Houses of Parliament are getting a much more peaceful, but perhaps equally incendiary, delivery. Chafing beneath Britain’s widespread surveillance and increasingly restrictive laws, the Libertarian Party UK is sending each Member of Parliament a warning shot on the direction of their nation: a copy of George Orwell’s anti-totalitarian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.Yesterday, the Libertarian Party announced the launch of its “1984 Campaign,” and by today, each Member of Parliament will have received a copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four from volunteer members of the grassroots campaign. The books will be inscribed with the admonition: “This book was a warning, not a blueprint.” But some MPs have been angered by the comparison between modern day Britain and Orwell’s dystopian nightmare. Tom Harris, MP for Glasgow, received his copy of the book a few days ago. In his blog, Harris railed against the intended message in his blog:
[T]here seem to be an awful lot of people out there - perhaps dozens of them - who seem to get strangely exercised at the prospect of a “police state”. Except that what they define as a “police state” is a million light years from what Orwell himself described. CCTV cameras in the street? That’s just like Nineteen Eighty-Four, when families were monitored in their own homes, 24 hours a day! Can’t use racist terms to vilify people any more? Well, surely that’s thought crime, just like Orwell predicted! What rubbish. As I’ve written here before, this is all paranoid fantasy, and why so many people get off on it, I’ll never know. I recently had the latest in a series of requests from constituents regarding CCTV. Requests to have the cameras removed? No, no, no… Requests for more cameras… We live in a democracy, and just because those — including my anonymous benefactor — who get excited about such things are unhappy that Labour is in power, that does not make us anything other than a democracy. And democratically-elected governments govern with the consent of the people. Yes, even this one!
The UK government may be democratically elected, but with four million CCTV cameras, Britain is the most-surveyed nation in the world. And censorship of online material, and legislation like the 2006 Terrorism Act, have put increasingly severe restrictions on speech. It might be worthwhile for British legislatures to take this opportunity to pause and reflect on what kind of country they're creating. Press Release Libertarian UK [via The Labour Party via Reddit]