Thursday, April 14, 2011

Teetering on the Brink of Totalitarianism (Polemic) by Giles Watson

When a Nation Forces its Citizens to Choose Between the Law of Conscience and the Law of the Land, it Teeters on the Brink of Totalitarianism
by Giles Watson

A couple of weeks ago, I sent a letter (copied below) to the Office of National Statistics, outlining the reasons why I felt conscience-bound to boycott the census. Their reply has just arrived, and can be seen here and in the comment box below. The previous 'Labour' government and the ONS have now placed me in an impossible position: by sending in my census form, I accept that it is right that the citizens of this country should support an armaments manufacturer; by refusing to send it in, I risk acquiring a criminal record.

There can be no possible excuses for accepting Lockheed Martin's involvement in administering the census. This company makes a range of lethal weapons, including cluster bombs, which by their very nature are designed with a foreknowledge that their use must cause civilian casualties. Moreover, they sell them to nice peace-loving nations like Bahrain. It is a particularly unfortunate coincidence that my copy of the census form arrived in the same week that it was reported that our new prime-minister, who clearly fancies himself as a great war-leader on a par with Winston Churchill, was off hawking weapons at an armaments fair in the Middle East.

The reply from the ONS is wholly unsatisfactory. It reassures me that Lockheed Martin will not have access to my personal data. It is not in fact my personal data which concerns me: it is my personal honour and moral dignity. I will not sit down and complacently fill in a form when my elected "representatives" have paid £150 000 000 to a company to administer it, given that I consider this company to be guilty of mass-murder. I am told that "any organisation with the correct technical capability, financial stability and experience has the opportunity to compete openly for Government business throughout the European Union without discrimination."

Lockheed Martin has practised its technical capability by managing the logistics of distributing missiles around the world. It has financial stability because it makes money by dealing death. It has experience because people like me do not shout out our disgust and indignation loudly enough to bring it down. It is reassurring to know that even international pariahs are not subject to discrimination.

I am told also that "Lockheed Martin's UK bid offered the best technical solut
ions and the best value for money for the taxpayer". I want to know how the ONS thinks it can possibly be considered value for money that an organisation of rapacious gun-runners are given £150 million to do a job which ought to be done by government employees.

The letter makes it clear that "the information that the census provides helps central and local government to understand the needs of local communities, and plan and prioritise billions of pounds of resources and public spending on housing, education, health and transport services for years to come." If that is the case, why has it prostituted itself to one of the filthiest international organisations on the planet? Surely it is a clear indication of how little our politicians care about local needs that they are prepared to provoke a boycott of what may yet prove to be unprecedented proportions by making it morally nauseating for a large portion of the populace to participate in the census?

Finally, I am boldly informed that "Those few who do refuse [to send in the form] may be prosecuted and could be fined up to £1000." As a school teacher, I have much to lose from this arrangement, but so do children around the world who may be maimed or orphaned by cluster bombs. So do some of my students, who join the armed forces out of idealism and run the risk of being put on the front line by a trigger-happy government which has no qualms about operating a seemingly interminable Middle Eastern war, ostensibly because it quells terrorism and despotism, but in reality because it makes money for - well, for organisations like Lockheed Martin.

The ONS therefore offers me a stark and simple choice: I must either follow the law of conscience, or the law of the land. When a nation forces its citizens to make such a choice, it teeters on the brink of totalitarianism. If we think this is an over-exaggeration, we kid ourselves. History has proven time and again that when the last step is taken over the precipice, the fall is precipitous, and most people are taken by surprise. Our toe is extended, and there is a long drop beneath it. Somebody has to scream. Will anybody scream with me?

My original letter to the ONS is here:

Dear Sir/ Madam,

I cannot in good conscience participate in the Census as required by law, as I understand that £150,000,000 is to be paid to the armaments manufacturer Lockheed Martin for its administration. I am unwilling to make even the most tacit contribution to the remuneration of an organisation which I regard as having colluded in the murder of innocent civilians through the manufacture of cluster bombs and other weapons designed to kill.

I am also of the conviction that a government census should be conducted by government employees, and not licensed out to private enterprise, thereby throwing its impartiality and integrity into question. As a school teacher and a law-abiding citizen, I have much to lose through this disobedience, and I have no desire whatsoever to incur a fine or a criminal record. However, in a political climate in which prominent cabinet ministers have no qualms about hawking armaments in the Middle East, even in the context of mass repression of democratic protest in Egypt and Libya, I have no option but to boycott the census in conscientious objection to the current national tendency to do obeisance to the forces of militarism. That such perverted standards should even govern the administration of a national statistical survey is an occasion for the gravest concern.

Given that the ONS threaten me with the stigma of criminality for taking the only option that is morally open to me, I reserve the right to publish this letter, and any responses to it, in whatever way I see fit.

Yours truly,

Dr Giles Watson

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