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Living in a Free Society - a recent experience

The following is offered without comment. It tries as honestly and comprehensively as possible to offer an objective account of the events surrounding an invitation to appear on a television discussion programme earlier this year.

A couple of months ago I was invited to take part as a representative of the Socialist Party in a Kilroy programme about Jack Straw's "three strikes and you're out" policy for burglars.

Two days before the programme was due to be recorded I was telephoned by a research assistant who wanted to know what kind of thing I would like to say. I offered two thoughts. One, a tactical objection to dispensing with juries, and thus with the whole idea of tying justice to particular circumstances—not least the personal circumstances of the criminal. And two, an objection to a discussion about burglary which failed to acknowledge that society was based on the legalised exploitation of one class by another.

The researcher wanted to know more about the latter point, so I offered a brief summary of the Socialist Party's position. "Oh," she said, "I'm not sure about that. You have to remember that our viewers are very ordinary people. I think they would find that very difficult. I certainly do." I suggested that the ideas were not so much difficult as novel, and offered the opinion that having been invited onto the programme as a representative of the Socialist Party, I would expect to have an opportunity of putting our case. The researcher was unhappy and suggested that I come as an individual and make only the first point. I observed that I thought it ironic that the programme would be discussing the automatic imprisonment of individuals and here she was telling me that I was also to be imprisoned: I wouldn't be allowed to say what I wanted, only what she wanted me to say. I wondered whether when members of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties were invited to appear on the programme they, too, were told that they wouldn't be given an opportunity of putting their parties' cases? The researcher didn't answer, but withdrew her invitation to me to attend.

MICHAEL GILL