Tag Archives: surveillance

In no particular order, some reasons why Labour will, one way or another, win the next general election either as a government or as a majority party in coalition. Please feel free to add your own…

  • It promises benefits and big spending to country addicted to ‘free’ money and profligacy
  • It has managed to position itself as the party of fairness to an ill-informed, benumbed electorate
  • It does not discriminate in any way whatsoever, so the good are as bad as the bad, and the bad are as good as the good – anything and anyone goes
  • It does child-care, education and thinking for you, so personal/public responsibility need not be exercised
  • It promotes ideological fancy, which is much easier to cultivate than practical, workable policies
  • It still maintains an entrenched tribal loyalty in parts of the UK despite it having long since having forgotten working people
  • It has created a generation unable to think and critically analyse the follies of voting Labour thanks to its bankrupting of the education system
  • It is not the Conservative Party, nor the Lib Dems, which for many people is reason enough to vote Labour

© thepanopticonblog, 2012



Ed Miliband’s speech to the Durham Miner’s Gala was the usual mix of obsequiousness and hypocrisy that has characterised Mr Miliband’s leadership and his party at large.

‘Community. Looking out for each other. Never walking by on the other side. These are the value of the people of Durham. These are the values of the people of the North East. These are also the values of the British people.’

With these words, Mr Miliband addressed the Durham Miner’s Gala with sentimentalism and insincerity that only tribal Labour voters would be unwilling to spot. His message about community was delivered sans irony – irony because the party he leads, whilst in office, was almost entirely responsible for the breakdown of social cohesion, autonomy, personal responsibility and community spirit with its fattening mixture of surveillance, state benefits and its augmentation of permissive society and dependency culture.

His attack on the current government included an allusion to the ‘lost a generation of young people’ who face long-term unemployment. This was picked up by a plucky young fellow who reminded Mr Miliband that under Labour’s watch, youth unemployment increased by 40%. This lad also tried to pin Mr Miliband down on his union affiliations, quizzing the Labour leader: ‘Do you think your pandering to your union paymasters will be your downfall in the Labour party?’ [1] It was a question that caused the gurning smile of Mr Miliband to crush itself into steely displeasure.

Labour’s feeble leader listed in his speech some of those who had spoken before him at past galas, including Keir Hardie, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle, remarking ‘I am proud to follow in their footsteps.’ Indeed, following is something Mr Miliband does well; like an ambulance chasing lawyer, he follows band wagons, in pursuance of his demagogic agenda.

His policies, such as they are, remain no less credible than his infantile leadership. Like a latter day Robin Hood his desire to ‘tax the bankers’ bonuses and get young people working again’ is exactly the sort of simplistic and unworkable idea that shows Mr Miliband is incapable of thoughts rational or intellectual. Indeed, like the stories recounting the legend of Robin Hood, his speech had nothing new to add, instead repeating embarrassingly uninspired lines such as ‘A few years ago the Tories tried to say “we’re all in it together”. But now we know they never meant it. Because we have seen what they do when they get back in power’, or otherwise ‘One rule for those at the top and another rule for everybody else. [The Tories] cut taxes for millionaires and they raise taxes on pensioners. It’s business as usual in the banks, and small businesses go under.’ Thus he sidestepped the fact that Labour were responsible for the ‘hands off’ approach towards the banks and the fact that they actively solicited the banks to win favour if not financial capital.

He accused the Conservatives of ‘Not building for the future but ripping up the foundations. Not healing our country, but harming it. Not uniting our country, but dividing it.’ This from the Labour party is quite an accusation.

In all Mr Miliband’s flat and unprofitable speech continues to evidence the assertion that he is capable of only a disingenuous rhetorical register, that he is a nakedly demagogic politician espousing dangerous ideological whimsy. Particularly toe-curling are his unctuous efforts to win those voters he is loathed to court, proving beyond doubt what a charlatan and a fraud both he and his party are.

Whilst the electorate continues to rightfully show disenchantment with the coalition, it is regrettable that such short term memory may well give Labour the chance they need to further dismember the UK. Mr Miliband may think he serves as a leader, but so far as the thinking public are concerned, he only serves to remind one that British politics is now at the very bottom of the trough. If the public are reminded of this enough times, however, the fatuous Mr Miliband may yet serve a worthwhile cause: hemorrhaging votes to UKIP.

© thepanopticonblog, 2012


1. ’14 Year Old Boy Confronts Ed Miliband.’ YouTube. 15 July 2012. <>

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Ancient cultures used myths as a way of explaining their world in times when superstition and fear were often the markers of the age. In our own time, governments and political parties have spread myths about immigration to cover their mishandling of the issue. For the electorate, the fear emerges from how little our government actually knows about immigration and its effects.

The independent think tank, Migration Watch, has produced a list of immigration myths fostered by the three main political parties. The findings of Migration Watch vindicate UKIP’s attitude towards regulating immigration, where on their website it reads:

As a member of the EU, Britain has lost control of her borders. Some 2.5 million immigrants have arrived since 1997 and up to one million economic migrants live here illegally. Former New Labour staff maintain that this policy has been a deliberate attempt to water down the British identity and buy votes. EU and human rights legislation means we cannot even expel foreign criminals if they come from another EU country.[1]

The un-thinking man’s politician, Ed Miliband, offered a half-baked and typically opportunistic voter-seeking apology for this act, but the damage has been and continues to be done. Only today it was reported that the UK Border Agency has no “clear strategy” for dealing with a group of more than 150,000 foreign nationals staying on after visas expire, [2]

Politicians from Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives find it an easy virtue to spend money on foreign aid or to talk of the need for democracy in foreign lands, but they find it incredibly difficult to spend money sensibly on their own nation or to undo the shackles of big, undemocratic EU government within their own borders. So successive governments, under the direction of the EU, have managed to regulate and legislate the ways of life of the UK’s population; yet their unwelcome interference never seems to extend to the issue of immigration or immigrants.

Government complacency on the issue of immigration is so great that if it were any other department, ministry, company or institution, there would be a criminal investigation.

Click here to read the list of immigration myths

© thepanopticonblog, 2012.


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‘To make anything very terrible, obscurity seems in general to be necessary’ – Edmund Burke’s description of the Romantic sublime has never been more pertinent as this article suggests parallels between both this and the EU. 

One of the Romantic period’s greatest philosophers, Edmund Burke, in his celebrated discourse A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, attempted to articulate the nature of the sublime. This sensation, which today we take to describe a state of almost transcendental perfection, held a different meaning for Burke and his contemporaries and is encoded in much of the great poetry and writing of the period.

In essence, the Romantic sublime is at once the combination of fear and awe. In our own time, we might suggest that some of the natural disasters we see on television, like those powerful images of the tsunami in Japan in 2011, provoke in us a feeling of awe at the power of nature and fear of that very power. More specifically, the Romantic sublime suggests that it is to be within the proximity of like danger (real or imagined) but to be just safe from harm that we recognise the unquantifiable and the reconciliation of the individual self to it. In this spirit, Wordsworth wrote that in his youth he was ‘Foster’d alike by beauty and by fear;’ and ‘sanctifying by such discipline | Both pain and fear until we recognise | A grandeur in the beatings of the heart.’ [1]

The sensation of the sublime is not restricted to encounters with the natural word. Indeed, Edmund Burke notes that the sublime can be used to political ends and that obscurity is key to power:

To make anything very terrible, obscurity seems in general to be necessary. When we know the full extent of any danger, when we can accustom our eyes to it, a great deal of the apprehension vanishes. Every one will be sensible of this, who considers how greatly night adds to our dread, in all cases of danger, and how much the notions of ghosts and goblins, of which none can form clear ideas, affect minds which give credit to the popular tales concerning such sorts of beings. Those despotic governments, which are founded on the passions of men, and principally upon the passion of fear, keep their chief as much as may be from the public eye. [2]

To offer a more recent frame of reference, one need only consider the figure of Big Brother in Orwell’s great novel; whether he is real or not is immaterial, because he is unseen (obscured) save for propaganda, he can be both everywhere and nowhere, obliging the citizens of that dystopia to normalize and regulate their behaviour in the most oppressive fashion. Thus the figure or idea of Big Brother elicits both awe and fear alike.

Away from literature, this idea of the sublime conveniently translates into both the perception and the reality of the EU. Its governance operates remotely (literally in another country) and its politicians and bureaucrats are, too, remote. They are unknown, indeed, obscure quantities ruling from afar; because they have not been voted in, they cannot be voted out and so they are utterly unaccountable.

Generally, those in awe of the EU are not experiencing a pleasant sensation, rather they are struck by the self perpetuating bureaucracy, the job justification and the disparate often vested interests at work within this institution. So, too, one has a legitimate right to experience fear; those making laws, those passing legislation or enacting are doing so without the mandate of the people, let alone their consultation. Indeed, professional obscurity is no bar to occupying professional office: look at the example of the European Court of Justice. As Daniel Hannan remarks ‘it doesn’t require its members to have served on the bench in their home countries. Many of them are academics, politicians and human rights activists who happen to have law degrees. And some are quite blatant about using the institution to advance an agenda that would be rejected at the ballot box.’ [3]

Time and again, when those such as Mr Farage remind the likes of Mr Barosso, Mr Van Rompuy or Mr Schulz that they have not been elected by the people to hold the offices they hold, they respond that they were voted for by colleagues and peers within the EU as if this equates to the same thing. At the most fundamental level, therefore, democracy is replaced by obscurity, since there is no correlation between the electorate and the people who claim to rule in their name.

The fear of the EU is not just in its meddling and efforts to standardize and legislate, it is, most obviously, to be see on the world stage where the effort to salvage the credibility of it economic prowess have floundered. Yet, day in, day out, it issues face-saving propaganda to claim success – but success for whom? Generations have been saddled with insurmountable debt to prop up countries that should have never joined this ill-conceived economic project. The EU’s own ideology has, therefore, become obscure, yet it still wields ‘fearful’ power over the nations and peoples it claims to serve (cf. ‘Weltanschauung: The Destructive Nature of the EU’s Ideology’). It is, in the Romantic sense, sublime.

The list of likenesses between the EU and Burke’s understanding of the sublime are many and varied. Perhaps the most potent sensation is the fact that in giving away practical powers to an unknown quantity, the UK has lost something far more worrying: its own symbolic value. Just as the idea of Big Brother or omnipotence  is powerful enough to regulate and normalise the actions of citizens, so we forget that the idea of the UK, with its independent, individual, pioneering and innovative spirit is more powerful than the sum of its policies. The economic or political ends of a nation state are never as valuable nor as powerful as its symbolic value. When one talks of the UK government failing to stop its ceding of powers to the EU, we cast our politicians as the victims of some obscure plot – but make no mistake – these are powers that have been given away with alacrity to serve an ideology conceived of by the passions of men.

What the obscure EU has to fear is exposure. It is sensitive at precisely the point where normal democracy should be strong – it is neither open, nor democratic, nor accountable –  which is why it is necessary to cast a floodlight over the shadowy machinations of this institution and its politicians, the men and women who keep themselves as much as may be from the public eye.

© thepanopticonblog, 2012.


Michel Foucault’s theory of the Panopticon is as prescient as ever as the Coalition considers new powers of surveillance that will affect us all. This article applies some of Foucault’s theories to what we know – or rather what remains unknown – about the EU. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

‘Morals reformed— health preserved — industry invigorated — instruction diffused — public burthens lightened — Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock — the gordian knot of the poor-law not cut, but untied — all by a simple idea in Architecture!’ [1] This was eighteenth century philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham’s excited pitch for what he called the panopticon. A circular building with a single observation post at its centre. Though it was suggested by Betham that the building may serve a number of social, industrial and municipal purposes, it is chiefly regarded as a revolutionary design for a prison.

The prisoners, located in cells situated on the building’s circumference could be watched by a guard/guards located in the central observation post, but the prisoners could not see the guard. Since the prisoners would not know if or when they were being watched, it would engender in them a spirit of self-regulation and control, lest further transgressions beget further punishments.

Whilst a prison following the panopticon design was neither constructed in Bentham’s lifetime nor in our own age, its metaphorical implications are keenly felt perhaps now more than ever. These implications are articulated by the French philosopher Michel Foucault in his work Discipline and Punish. [2] It is a remarkably insightful work which out to be read in full, so mere quotation cannot do it justice, though it can offer an impression.

Foucault suggests that those occupying a panoptic prison are ‘the object[s] of information, never a subject[s] in communication’ since they can be watched but they cannot communicate with others. With Bentham’s design, as Foucault observes:

The crowd, a compact mass, a locus of multiple exchanges, individualities merging together, a collective effect, is abolished and replaced by a collection of separated individualities. From the point of view of the guardian, it is replaced by a multiplicity that can be numbered and supervised; from the point of view of the inmates, by a sequestered and observed solitude. Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.

Foucault elaborates upon this model by suggesting that panopticism supposes two types of power: visible and unverifiable:

Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so.

Starkly, Foucault suggests that ‘The Panopticon is a machine for dissociating the see/being seen dyad: in the peripheric ring, one is totally seen, without ever seeing; in the central tower, one sees everything without ever being seen.’ So it is with the EU – its presence is known, but its quantity is not since it comprises of unelected representatives and unqualified bureaucrats, all of whom are unaccountable or in some particular cases, immune.

A common response to the notion of increased surveillance is that if one has done nothing wrong, then one has nothing to hide. This accords with Foucault’s remarks that the success of an autonomous state may be measured by the self-regulation of the individuals within:

He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection. By this very fact, the external power may throw off its physical weight; it tends to the non-corporal; and, the more it approaches this limit, the more constant, profound and permanent are its effects: it is a perpetual victory that avoids any physical confrontation and which is always decided in advance.

But if one takes the panopticon as a structure (its building materials, the geometric alignments that need to be made, the guiding principles of its design, the perfection of its lines of visibility, notwithstanding the land required for the building, the materials and equipments needed to cater for the prisoners and the staff), it entails a great amount of labour before the dream of self regulation can be realised. So the EU cannot ‘throw off its physical weight’ whilst it builds its dream of a geographically, politically and fiscally united Europe. Thus, during construction of the EU panopticon, Europe’s nations occupy a prison of another sort: the building site of the EU’s edifice. They are bogged down in the mire of its foundations, at the mercy of the haphazard construction, of self-appointed cowboy builders who claim knowledge, authority and command of their craft as the walls they built the previous day collapse upon the people’s occupying this dangerous and unworkable project who are obliged to meet the costs of its floundering construction.

Indeed, Foucault’s theories of panopticism could not have accounted for the institution that is the EU because it is so abstract and absurd a notion, that it resembles the excesses of a deluded fantasist rather than a learned philosopher. In this way, the self-regulatory notion that if one has done nothing wrong, one has nothing to hide, does not account for the way in which governments that practise intensive surveillance are prepared to find something wrong in what you do. And let us not forget that the snooper’s charter derives from an EU initiative. Indeed, one may not be doing something wrong in their own country, but if the data collected amounts to a criminal offence in another EU country, they have the right to extradite you thanks to the European Arrest Warrant, where you can be held in a foreign jail for many months before your case is heard.

One may take some comfort in Foucault’s suggestion that whilst in the central tower ‘the director may spy on all the employees that he has under his orders: nurses, doctors, foremen, teachers, warders; he will be able to judge them continuously, alter their behaviour, impose upon them the methods he thinks best; and it will even be possible to observe the director himself.’ He continues:

An inspector arriving unexpectedly at the centre of the Panopticon will be able to judge at a glance, without anything being concealed from him, how the entire establishment is functioning. And, in any case, enclosed as he is in the middle of this architectural mechanism, is not the – 5 director’s own fate entirely bound up with it ? The incompetent physician who has allowed contagion to spread, the incompetent prison governor or workshop manager will be the first victims of an epidemic or a revolt. ‘

UKIP would seem well placed to represent the erstwhile and timely visitations of  a director to the unruly institution of the EU panopticon. Regrettably, however, UKIP’s inspections of the EU building site are currently as close as the people can get to auditing the construction, let alone object to the planning application. Foucault suggests that the completed panoptican would be democratically controlled:

In fact, any panoptic institution, even if it is as rigorously closed as a penitentiary, may without difficulty be subjected to such irregular and constant inspections: and not only by the appointed inspectors, but also by the public; any member of society will have the right to come and see with his own eyes how the schools, hospitals, factories, prisons function. There is no risk, therefore, that the increase of power created by the panoptic machine may degenerate into tyranny; he disciplinary mechanism will be democratically controlled, since it will be constantly accessible ‘to the great tribunal committee of the world’. This Panopticon, subtly arranged so that an observer may observe, at a glance, so many different individuals, also enables everyone to come and observe any of the observers. The seeing machine was once a sort of dark room into which individuals spied; it has become a transparent building in which the exercise of power may be supervised by society as a whole.

Just as big government like the EU wants to eradicate identity in the name of some perverted sense ‘progressive’ social synthesis, so laws concerning surveillance seem prepared to identify guilt or the likelihood of guilt rather than the presumption of innocence. The revelation of Foucault’s panopticism in our own time is that the process of isolation, exclusion and the separation of individuals is being applied to all rather than the perpetrators of criminal acts. The exceptions are justifying the rules. Our actions, like our nations, remain in the darkened rooms under the watch of the EU’s unaccountable spies. Until such institutions can offer a genuinely reciprocal relationship with the people they claim to represent, the dream of an illuminated, transparent building for individuals, for society and for government, will remain a vivid but stinging illusion.

© thepanopticonblog, 2012