2007 - 2022

For the Sake of Freedom

The convergence of the Unionist right and covid-libertarianism is a strange phenomenon. Unionism (either the Muscular variant or its weak lilly-livered predecessors) used to be a quietly bitterly paternalistic affair with its sense of benevolent ownership. Neil’s style is different if wonderfully contradictory. From the studios of GB news he speaks a stilted script of grand themes he barely understands:


“A caged bird is alive.”

“What matters is to live in freedom.”

He goes on – in full-flight now: “This is why ex-cons re-offend”.

Now, reaching a crescendo of stupidity he declares:  “Here’s the thing … If your freedom means I might catch covid from you, then so be it, if my freedom means you might catch covid from me, then so be it …”

“For the sake of freedom  – yours and mine together (cheers Neil! – Ed) – I will cheerfully risk catching covid.”

Of course while he talks of freedom and “life not being safe” in a sort of macho-patriotic Spitfire Nationalism, in reality he is terrified of change and terrified of risk. While he offers to kill you with his freedom his offer doesn’t extend to your right to a vote or your right to a democracy.

There’s a bunch of these people floating around social media and marginal tabloid fodder to sell papers and entertain the excitable. One such is James Melville who has consistently downplayed covid and misrepresented the issue for many months.

Some people think you should just ignore these people and let them drift into the margins, but the more you look at these alliances and convergences – and the more you think back about the extraordinary sado-populism of Brexit – the more these ideas need to be challenged and fought against. While we have looked across the Atlantic and sneered at the stupidity of Trump supporters for years we have ignored the very same tendencies emerging over here.

Melville’s framing is worth noting:
“It’s not about left v right anymore. It’s about authoritarianism v liberalism. And as you probably know, I’m an old school liberal left winger that absolutely hates illiberal authoritarianism. #NoVaccinePassports”
Of course he is no such thing, he’s a completely reactionary figure but whether it’s Oliver’s theatrical hyper-British sentimentality or Melville’s posturing the new libertarianism is so wide and wooly it allows anyone in. Anti-Vaxxer? Farage-supporting Brexiteer? Part-time chemtrail researcher? Reddit dopehead? Stroppy Tory mum? Bored businessman railing against Sturgeon? 5G activist? Come right in.
What unites them is not a sense of freedom but a sense of narcissism. What they rail against is not ‘the state’ it is the collective. They represent the triumph of the private against the public and the triumph of selfishness over solidarity. It is not ‘authoritarian’ to have a collective public health response to the current crisis. These notions being thrown about about “freedom” are context-free and one-dimensional. I think it was Bakunin who argued: “Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice; socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality”.


Comments (41)

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  1. Squigglypen says:

    I’ve said before..feed yon wretch to Nessie..in a humane sorta way…. cheerfully.

  2. Tom Ultuous says:

    ‘For the sake of freedom – yours and mine together – I will cheerfully risk catching Covid.’

    If I ever catch it I’ll look the [email protected] up and wish him a long recovery.

  3. Gavin says:

    ‘For the sake of freedom – yours and mine together – I will cheerfully risk catching Covid.’

    Brilliant epitaph.

  4. Daniel Raphael says:

    Spot on with the Bakunin quotation. And the rest of it.

  5. SFTB says:

    Nice try in playing Culture Wars with this.

    The idea that anti-vaxxers are largely Unionists against the jab (based on 2 punters, one of whom I’d never heard of, and implying the corrolary that those lining up to get the jab are all dressed like the Bay City Rollers, will not chime with anyone’s experience.

    There ARE authoritarians on both sides of this debate but I never chose to be double jabbed because Nicola told me to do it. I listened to the professionals, who, funnily enough, did not proclaim a political leaning of any sort.

    I hate to see anyone play politics with this serious issue. It isn’t left vs right or Yes vs No. It’s grown-up vs the “I’ve listened to what Snega fae Facebook said”.

    1. I didn’t suggest at all “that anti-vaxxers are largely Unionists against the jab” or that those lining up to get the jab are “all dressed like the Bay City Rollers” – i just described the phenomenon we are witnessing.

      1. SFTB says:

        I know what language is mine and I know a non-denial when I see one.

        1. Iain MacLean says:

          Unionists in the shape of Ross and his shadow ministers take a different stance to the policies and initiatives the Scottish Government implements on Covid.

          Where the Scottish Government err on the side of caution, the tory opposition undermines whilst proposing fast and loose policies that would see the virus surge with greater negative impacts! The tories constantly under play the seriousness of the virus whilst agitating to open up everything, including night clubs!

          Scotland has 30% fewer casualties to that of England, this has not happened by accident and highlights that Ross and his merry band have learned nothing as the pandemic has progressed and merely oppose with little rational or purpose!

          Clearly, Johnson has not acted on data or scientific advice, do you believe his advisors said to him whist numbers were rocketing, it would be a great idea to open up night clubs?

          BTW, culture wars originated and have been launched by the tories, no else, directly copied from the Trump play book!

  6. DAVID SMART says:

    Belters together, Oliver and Melville. Sometimes you wonder if they honestly believe the words they spout. No doubt Oliver practices in front of a mirror just to get the intonation and emphasis spot on. It comes over as false.

  7. SleepingDog says:

    Apparently Bakunin recognized one (and perhaps only one) ultimate authority: the natural laws that we must obey. Human scientific and technological endeavour is imperfect, but we can consult experts and weigh their advice rationally.
    The distinction is perhaps in people who accept or reject Nature as the great scorekeeper, the objective grounds on which our actions have undeniable consequences. As for freedom, perhaps GB News should reflect on the unfree corners of the British Empire which are seldom seen on primetime British television. I watched the jarring contrast with the militaristic (troops marching with fixed bayonets) French Bastille Day celebrations in Tahiti with the jolly Polynesian Heiva festival that surrounds it, on episode one of Pacific with Sam Neill. A Tahitan MP related exactly the same kind of Project Fear worries instilled into Tahitans to discourage them from seeking independence.

  8. Mouse says:

    When someone asks why ‘libertarianism is so wide and wooly it allows anyone in’, they don’t understand libertariaism?

    1. James Mills says:

      So , let’s hear the Mouse version from one who clearly knows !

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        ‘Libertarian’ designates any one of myriad views that gravitate around the core principle of liberty or freedom from constraint. Its correlate is ‘authoritarian’, which designates any one of myriad views that gravitate around the core principle of submission to authority, be that authority a knowledge community, a leader, a party, the general will, the majority will, or whatever.

        Apart from their core principle, nothing unites either libertarianism or authoritarianism into anything like a ‘philosophy’ or movement. As a tendency, libertarians seek to maximise autonomy through individual choice and responsibility, voluntary association, and mutual cooperation, and to be sceptical of authority and other concentrations of power. For libertarians, the end of democracy is to limit and/or frustrate such concentrations of power, whereas, for authoritarians, where it serves any end at all, it’s to legitimise or mandate an authority and the exercise thereof.

        As tendencies, both libertarianism and authoritarianism also cut across the traditional classifications of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’.

    2. Yes I very much do – there are various strands of libertarian thinking which often have had defining features and characteristics and traditions from Stirnerismn through to anarcho-capitalism, neolibertarianism and on and on. My point was that this is a convergence of social movements into a vague soup of libertarianism that is a as dangerous as it is stupid.

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        ‘Vague soup’ is a great way of characterising both libertarianism and authoritarianism.

    3. Daniel Raphael says:

      It might be useful to note that ‘libertarian’ as a modifier versus as a noun, carries substantially different significance–at least, in my observation of how the term is used. If you are a libertarian, it is easy to place your politics and values on the right, based as it is the the marketplace, private ownership, and so forth. As a modifier, it is applied all over the place: people who are quite willing to endorse militarism, wars, and the Big Brother state are “libertarian” when the corporate press so names them (Rand Paul’s son, a US Senator, is a fine example of this conjuncture of toxins), while self-defined libertarians who identify with the Old Right (the progressive independent of US history, Senator LaFollette, e.g.), as typified by the folks of Antiwar.com, are fiercely and consistently opposed to imperialism, the national security state, etc. They share in common with Senator Paul, their belief in the efficacy of capitalism, though not as currently incarnated and practiced.

      As a modifier, ‘libertarian’ can readily be applied to streams of value and perspective on the left. You can call yourself a libertarian socialist, meaning to distinguish your values and views from those of the vanguard-party Marxist-Leninist perspective. In Old Left parlance, a libertarian socialist was and sometimes still is referred to as an anarcho-communist. And so it goes.

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        Of course, in the context of US political culture and namecalling, it has completely different connotations.

  9. Peter Robinson says:

    Once more a journalist (he is no more) describing his year and a half of lock down, clearly his mathematic ability is close to his intellect, sorry March 28th 2020 was only 17 months back sorry not a year and a half (getting closer now but started 3 months back by BBC ” journalists” bad enough their grammar is terrible but basic maths???). Wake up you morons you’re listening to absolute cretins!

  10. Paula Becker says:

    Mike’s had his booster shot……of sneering condescension.

  11. Wul says:

    “…What they rail against is not ‘the state’ it is the collective…”

    I’ve noticed this on-line. Two middle-aged hi-fi buffs complaining bitterly about how much they really hate the word “community”. On another thread, the phrase “our own communities” described as being “weird”.

    It must be “a thing”.

    1. Time, the Deer says:

      They’ve got nae pals, Wul. They feel left out, and so kid on they were taking their ball in anyway. Miserable bastards, the lot of them.

  12. Wul says:

    There’s a good turn out of the new trollsters on this page.

    Does Kneel Oliver have a fan club?

    1. Iain MacLean says:

      One wonders where he will get his next job when gb news folds, he’s burnt his bridges with the main stream, and now looks unemployable!

      Perhaps when gb news folds, Belarus State TV may need a news presenter?

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        I’m sure he’ll be fine. He has an excellent agent in Sophie Laurimore, who, having cultivated the brand with his critics’ complicity, will now be able to market him as ‘the controversial presenter, Neil Oliver’. He won’t be short of commissions.

      2. Niemand says:

        I really liked him on Coast – he had a genuine enthusiasm and warmth towards people. Shame what has happened since. It is a bit hard to see him being taken seriously again but then if this is the sort of thing he is going to focus on I won’t miss him.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          I haven’t seen him in anything. In fact, all I know about him is that he lives in Stirling, he has a very good agent for his brand, and he’s offended some folk with stuff he’s written and said.

          1. Niemand says:

            I was in Stirling about four years ago and saw him in the street! Was going to say hello but thought better of it.

            The pandemic has been very divisive with this kind of thing. It must be said with many of the ‘celebrity’ deniers, anti-vaxxers, and ‘freedom’ junkies, it is noticeable how their careers are flagging or they are washed-up has-beens: Ian Brown (The Charlatans – ha!), Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Neil Gallagher, Right Said Fred (!), Richard Ashcroft (The Verve), Lawrence Fox, Katie Hopkins . . . and of course, Morrissey.

      3. James Mills says:

        Next Job ? Posing in front of full-length mirror advertising his new line in cravats , perhaps ?

  13. Michael says:

    You see what Mike has done here? He dictates to us an evidence-free narrative that lumps together a collection of views that he doesn’t like, into his own conspiracy theory: that there is a group of people, who hold some contradictory views that he disagrees with, convergening into a threatening movement.

    Of course you will see that his real beef here is with freedom of thought and expression. The intellectual gymnastics to hide from him self his own authoritarian leanings are worthy of a gold medal.

    It’s a vague soup of liberal-authoritarian nonsense that is as dangerous as it is stupid.

    I was attracted to Bella in the early days because it seemed to be a place that celebrated different views and welcomed debate. A place to side step the soft censorship that main stream media is so adept at.

    I have been increasingly disturbed over recent years by the increasing hostility here to different views that challenge Mike’s fix and often demonstrably wrong stance on certain issues.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      But at least those views are allowed to be aired in a comparatively free and open forum, which isn’t the case with more heavily censored/moderated sites. ‘The increasing hostility here to different views that challenge Mike’s’ is all part of the dialectical cut and thrust of disputation and debate.

    2. Hi Michael – thanks for your comment.

      You say “I was attracted to Bella in the early days because it seemed to be a place that celebrated different views and welcomed debate.”

      Well we do, and here you are.

      “Of course you will see that his real beef here is with freedom of thought and expression.” Not at all. Neil Oliver is welcome to express his views and I am permitted to disagree with him. You on a website of Opinion and Analysis. If you disagree with the editors opinion and analysis that’s just fine.

      You say: “I have been increasingly disturbed over recent years by the increasing hostility here to different views that challenge Mike’s fix and often demonstrably wrong stance on certain issues.”

      Wrong? Wrong?! It seems highly unlikely but I suppose it is possible.

      If you don’t like my analysis feel free to read one of our hundreds of other writers or regular columnists.

      Have a great day!

      1. Wul says:

        But poor Michael can’t have a great day!

        He’s “increasingly disturbed” by the editor disagreeing with people whom he agrees with. It’s all about “Freedom of Speech”*

        *”Freedom of Speech” is the right of people with their own TV channel to say what they like and never be challenged.

    3. Wul says:

      Jeez Michael!

      Almost the first thing that Oliver says is “Take away all the numbers, all the statistics, all the models and predictions…”

      So; “Take away all the facts and evidence…and listen to me talking shite instead”

  14. Chris Connolly* says:

    This morning it’s reported that Jeremy Clarkson has made similar remarks. Like Neil Oliver, Clarkson has metamorphosed from a TV presenter on a particular subject to a rent-a-quote professional right winger, and it’s daft to pretend that the anti-lockdown position isn’t associated with the political right. Katie Hopkins has only recently been expelled from Australia for expressing those same opinions in a similarly strident manner.

    I’d be interested if anybody could provide reliable evidence that anti-lockdown rhetoric and anti-vaxx conspiracies are not more frequently repeated by people who also doubt the existence of man-made climate change, are anti-Semitic, espouse the theory of the Great Replacement of white people by black and claim that Donald Trump was the real winner of the USA’s 2020 Presidential Election.

    1. Wul says:

      This is potentially quite an interesting thing Chris.

      Do these right-wing mouthpieces genuinely see themselves as being immune from a bad case of debilitating Covid? Is this the same detachment that allows them to feel superior to, say, homeless people or refugees?

      I always look at such unfortunate people and think “There but for the grace of God go I” but they may look and genuinely feel something different? “It’s their own fault” or “They are weak” or “Why should I have to…..”

      1. Chris Connolly* says:

        Afternoon, Wul. I can only assume that with a large ego comes an unrealistic sense of immunity from problems that affect the rest of us, even when the problem in question is a global pandemic. Being rich and healthy and owning a home away from the inner city does help, I suppose. That might explain why professional reactionaries become lockdown sceptics but it doesn’t explain why ordinary Q Anon supporters should.

        Have you ever read “Deer Hunting with Jesus?” The writer went back to his home town in the rural USA and found that his old schoolmates, though nearly all a single missed pay cheque away from eviction, were all exceptionally right wing in their opinions, to the extent of wanting nuclear weapons to be dropped on Iran. I’ve no doubt that the majority in this town, and many others like it, subscribe to Q Anon conspiracy theories, insist that Trump really won the Presidential Election and are fiercely opposed to any lockdown measures on the grounds that their freedom is restricted as a consequence.

        You or I, quite reasonably, might prefer to conclude that the most fundamental of all freedoms is the right to stay alive. Messrs Oliver and Clarkson would no doubt claim that right for themselves while, at the same time, continuing to say that other people’s right not to be infected with coronavirus comes second to their right to spread it. My mother is 93; if she gets Covid-19 I don’t hold out much hope for her chances of survival. My friend’s dad died of the virus at 92 last year after spending his last couple of weeks in intensive care while not being allowed any visitors. He deserved better than that. Personally, I believe that only the most selfish or deluded citizen would object to enduring some more restrictions in return for not inflicting the same fate on others.

        Still waiting, with no realistic expectation, for somebody to defend the notion that people on the right are not more likely to be conspiracy theorists, lockdown opponents, climate change sceptics, anti-vaxers &c.

        1. Tom Ultuous says:

          Great posts Chris & Wul.

        2. John Learmonth says:

          Obviously your not aware of a certain Piers Corbyn brother of the ex-great leader.
          Not only is he a man ‘of the left’ he also ticks all your boxes on climate change denier/anti vaxxer, anti Israel etc etc. He also beleives the 5G network spreads Covid.
          Lunacy is not a preserve of the ‘right’

  15. David B says:

    I suppose you could call it “Muscular Immunionism”

  16. Ali Watt says:

    Melville is simply a self-publicist. He jumps on bandwagons and adopts positions that will get him most clicks on Twitter. He has no real beliefs. He’s simply a self-serving twat.

    Oliver is a diehard unionist Tory. Another self-publicist who lies and, so fits well with the British Tory, anti-Scottish regime, despite being a Scot.

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