Oxford Union Speech 19/1/12 “This House Believes That A Bad Law Deserves To Be Broken.”
‘This House Believes That A Bad Law Deserves To Be Broken’
Thank you Madam President and many thanks to the members of the establishment and political aristocracy sitting opposite me tonight who seem to labouring under the impression that we live in a working democracy when I contend that we do not.
Firstly, let me introduce myself. My name is Matt O’Connor and I am a terrorist.
At least that’s what Counter Terrorism Command told me when they came down to visit me a few years back after I had temporarily retired from front line campaigning to focus on a new Ice Cream brand I was developing.
I told them I could tell them about Madagascan Vanilla, Tahitian Vanilla, but terrorism? According to them – and the law – because of my penchant for encouraging over weight men to dress more like the Michelin Man than Superman, I was regarded as serious threat to national security.
Sure, I might be a threat to sartorial elegance and good dress sense, but terrorism?
Under the definition of The Terrorism Act 2000 I was ‘a lycra clad terrorist ice cream man’, i.e. I was using threats (read lyrca and now ice cream) to influence the government or to intimidate the public for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause. The cause is called ‘Equal Parenting and Fatherhood’. Clearly, two very dangerous ideological ideas that could destabilise the country.
In reality the closest I came to an act of terrorism was making an ice cream bombe that required the evacuation of hundreds and thousands. Boom, boom.
As a result of that I that incident I am often asked by people, ‘Matt, why aren’t you in jail?’ Well I am a man of convictions, too numerous to mention here. But one of the reasons why I am not in jail is that I haven’t actually broken many laws. In fact, in majority of the jury trials we faced, most resulted in a ‘not guilty verdict.’
So, there are several dimensions to this proposition. Does a bad law deserve to be broken? I say yes. But law and justice are two very different things and we should remember that.
Is the rule of law paramount? I also say yes – but that if you choose to break the law you must accept your punishment. However, whilst the rule of law is paramount, it is not static. Law reflects societies conditioning and thinking, but it often takes time for the law to catch up creating a time lag where injustice can breed. Slavery, workers rights (The Tolpuddle Martyrs) and women’s right to vote are just three examples of where the law failed to keep up with social change. And sometimes when democracy fails, new laws are made by breaking old laws, restoring balance and justice to society.
In fact, I would argue that in the context of civil disobedience, it is law-breakers who demonstrate the greatest respect and understanding for the law.
On that point, lets consider some honourable law-breakers who really don’t receive enough credit for their law-breaking ways: Tony Blair, George W Bush and Rupert Murdoch. When I say that those of us who break the law in pursuit of a cause or belief, we do so demonstrating the utmost respect for the law. These three however represent an unholy trinity of the worst pathological crooks and law breakers who have ever graced this land. Let us consider the laws they broke, supported by my honourable members opposite.
They engaged in Illegal torture, sanctioned illegal extraordinary rendition, allowed illegal execution without trial (drone killings), fought illegal wars with money we don’t have, are busy dismantling Habeas Corpus and introducing more secret courts alongside bankrupting countries economically, socially and ethically. So before the people opposing the motion get all ‘holier than thou’ about law breaking, lets see the real pros in action; Lets start at Scotland Yard, lets start at News Corp, lets start at the Banks, lets start at the Palace of Westminster.
The Police are increasingly militarised and have become the enforcers for the crime bosses. The press are corrupt (bribery, hacking), the Banks that put the bank in bankruptcy are corrupt having staged the biggest bank job in the history of the world – but not a single arrest – whilst pickpocketing the little people to pay off the big people. The Politicians are corrupt (expenses, press relationships) and our government has been shown to be rife with systemic bribery and corruption on an unprecedented scale.
These are the same crooks that produce hundreds of new laws each year designed to keep you and me in check
You couldn’t make this shit up.
And what happens to these law-breakers? Are they on trial? Are they doing bird? No, they turn into money-spinning Comedy double acts; Blair and Brown, Cameron and Clegg, Murdoch and Murdoch, Boom and Bust and they earn gazillions off the backs of us, the British taxpayer who keeps paying out. And what’s happened to the people we employ to enforce the law?
The Police used to be noble servants upholding the law – now they are above it – or should I say, beneath it. They are wining and dining suspects, enjoying free hospitality at health spas, knocking off the former Home Secretary’s wife, sleeping with campaigners (what I call ‘deep’ cover) and banging out sprogs whilst padding their pensions with jobs at National Newspapers. In the halcyon days it was ‘Evening Officer’, today it’s ‘Is that a truncheon in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me.’
All the same people, are in the same jobs, committing the same crimes, whilst introducing their new laws to control us. I wouldn’t let them run a bath – let alone a democracy. Our country has been hijacked by the venal, the corrupt and the despicable, so please at the next election don’t vote for these fuckers, because it only encourages them.
This ladies and gentleman is an Age of Hyper-Hypocrisy. An age where our government demonstrates an absolute contempt for the rule of law. Unlike members of the establishment, true law breakers have the utmost respect for the rule of law, but when WE break the law the establishment uses fear, it uses violence and it uses draconian methods to contain protest. Our right to protest is being trampled on and inevitably as new laws are introduced to contain us, they will be broken.
Whilst our government praises the protestors of the Arab Spring we are caged, children are kettled, we are unlawfully detained, we are denied a right to a jury trial and we are denied our basic rights.
An iron curtain brought down over centuries old liberties, liberties we fought 2 world wars to defend. And where are have our leaders led us? From riches to rags, from first world to third world, a country where defensive walls have become prison walls, where they have raised the retirement age until after you’ve died.
I predict that in the next few years many of you will become law-breakers as the struggle for social and political justice becomes a populist movement. It is we the people who are the ultimate arbiters of the law because what faith can you place in our lawmakers themselves when they have demonstrated utter contempt themselves for the rule of law? Think about it. How long is it going to be before you start breaking the law? When the CSA start knocking on the door? When your bank goes bust? When the cashpoint stops working? When they restrict your freedom to the internet?
They say Britain is just ‘nine meals from anarchy’ and the tectonic plates of capitalism are wobblier than Lindsay Lohan in rehab. How long will it be before you are criminalised like the rest of us?
We have a long and honourable tradition of law breaking in this country; The Tolpuddle Martyrs, The suffragettes and gay and human rights protestors like Peter Tatchell. Internationally we have seen tremendous courage from the likes of Ai Wei Wei, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther-King…
Wayne David opposite (Labour MP) seems to have forgotten that without the brave law-breaking men and women like my namesake Fergus O’Connor in the Chartists movement, there would be NO Labour Party. He stands on the shoulder of others who broke the law to give him a right to free speech.
Why do people place themselves at such risk? Because you cannot crush or contain the human spirit. It is not only right to break unjust laws, it is our duty to break unjust laws.
Unlike my friends opposite, I don’t believe in doing nothing when my children, my family and my country are at risk. For me the political is personal. A police officer once said to me I have the greatest job in the world, you are seeing your children – why risk it all?
Because my country doesn’t recognise me in law as a father. It treats me like a cashpoint not a dad. It treats me with utter contempt and disrespect. It condemns my children to share the same fate as their father. And we send those fathers off to fight phoney wars on behalf of a country that doesn’t afford then the right in law to be a father. When that changes, when that changes – I will stop campaigning.
But it is not just about breaking laws, but about creating new and just laws. Imagine, one day, somebody tries to snatch your child from you. Just imagine. There is no wall I wouldn’t climb to stop me seeing my children. No bridge I wouldn’t scale. No law I wouldn’t break. No bullet I wouldn’t take.
Joshua Rozenburg says we should ‘tweet’ our problems or convince the pit of vermin that is our parliament and try to persuade them of the validity of our argument by which time our children will be trapped in the Devils Labyrinth that is the family courts. I say to him that is madness. If I must pay a price for pursuing a higher moral imperative then I must pay that price. There are a few of us who are prepared to sacrifice our lifestyles, incomes, liberties in pursuit of justice, unlike the tyrants who hide behind the wall of parliament, sheltered by our scam democracy.
We do so openly, we do so proudly and we do so without fear.
One of the reasons why bad laws come to pass, is that there is precious little scrutiny of the law making process in the media. That is a consequence of the democratic collapse with little or no assessment or scrutiny of new laws. In the middle of this depression we must seize the law making apparatus back from the political and legal aristocracy and place it back in the hands of democratically, elected and accountable citizens – not an unelected, unaccountable and unsackable judiciary.
As an individual I would rather break a bad law than live by a broken one. Without challenging laws – and in some cases breaking them – we cannot create new ones. You don’t shape the world by following bad laws and as we see time and time and time again, law breakers become law makers
Of course, if you want to live like a dog, obeying his masters house rules that is your prerogative.
If you want to engage in political coprophilia by accepting every word and wish of our Lords and Masters as they dump on you, then my name is Mark Oaten. If you want to bend over whilst somebody shafts centuries old liberties without blinking an eye or even extending you the courtesy of a jar Vaseline, good luck to you. That is not the country I want my children to grow up in. For me law-breaking, like campaigning, is not a spectator sport. They say if you stick your neck out, you going to get it cut off some times. But as MLK said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’
As a campaigner and law breaker, I don’t want to occupy, I want to electrify.
The fact is bad men, break good laws. And good men, break bad laws and I’d rather die on my feet in jail, than live on my knees under a bad law.
Finally this morning members of F4J received court summonses after handcuffing themselves to the gates of Buckingham Palace last September whilst protesting for equal parenting rights. I’d handcuff myself to the gates of hell if it meant we would rid this country of the monstrous and secretive regime we call the family courts in this county and that’s why I support the motion that bad laws deserve to be broken.