Here’s a video not many people have watched, or are ever likely to watch. It’s a 40 min speech given by barrister Michael Shrimpton at the Britain on the Brink conference in Winchester on 22 September 2007.
What was the Britain on the Brink Conference you might ask? Well, according to the YouTube blurb is was:
A one day Conference by and for people of all parties and of none.
Hardly the kind of catch line that’s likely to attract many YouTube hits you might think. And you know what? … It hasn’t!
623 views is all it’s had to date. A staggeringly small number for a video that’s been available worldwide for nearly a year for free. And out of those 623, how many watched it from beginning to end? Less than half certainly. So we’re talking, at the very most, about 300 odd people in the whole wide world.
“Odd” as in people who still have an appetite for listening to lectures by pompous middle-aged windbags – so inebriated with the exuberance of they’re own verbosity they’re nearly wetting themselves – talking for hours without the benefit of PowerPoint presentations, car chases, explosions or anorexic girls in mini-skirts anywhere in sight.
Those kind of people are pretty hard to find these days. Both the kind that can speak at such length, and the kind who want to sit quietly and listen to them. 623 people in a world of 7 billion is a pretty small audience. Insignificant you might say. But crammed into your living room? That would be an entirely different thing.
We don’t know how many people are crammed into whatever conference room Michael Shrimpton is speaking in, but it doesn’t really matter. If some barrister nobody had ever heard of was speaking in a room, pub or parish hall at the end of your street, how many people would go and listen to him? One in ten? One in a hundred? One in a thousand perhaps?
Whatever number you decide on, now consider this. Michael Shrimpton describes himself on his blog as:
… a Barrister, specialist in National Security and Constitutional Law, Strategic Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism.The Shrimpton Report blog
He doesn’t appear to have a Wikipedia page, which is unusual when you consider that he made his name 14 years ago as a rising star in the legal profession by getting Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet released from British custody on charges of crimes against humanity and back to his home country.
If only Julian Assange could be so lucky! But Shrimpton is probably the last person he’d want defending him, because they are, of course, on opposite sides of every political fence you can think of.
Whether you like Assange or not, most liberally-minded people will switch off the moment they hear Pinochet’s name. If Shrimpton had anything to do with getting Pinochet off then he should be locked up, not given a platform to spread his fascist propaganda. And its not just his politics that most liberals would find entirely inappropriate, it’s his pompous public-school tone. It’s so old fashioned. Appropriate in the days of Colonel Blimp and the Crimean War perhaps, but not now. Swanning around the Shires eating jolly good dinners with jolly good chaps! Well, I ask you!
When our good liberal friends discover that some of the people Shrimpton is addressing seem to be members of UKIP and possibly even the BNP, well … they’re off! They don’t want to hear any more and don’t want anyone else to hear it either. They want people like Shrimpton censored, banned, locked away out of earshot forever.
Which is not only a bit – er – illiberal, it’s also a great shame. Because if they got off their high-horses for a minute and just listened they might learn a thing or two. If nothing more they would at least learn how the enemy thinks. Which is the first thing you need to know, if you want to win that is.
Do liberals want to win or not? Hard to tell. They’re liberal. That’s the problem. Sitting on the middle of the road trying not to get knocked down by either side.
Nice work if you can get it. But there are many amongst us who are not so lucky. Michael Shrimpton for instance. As a young child he was uprooted against his will from his friends in England and transported to Australia, unable to return until he was old enough to be legally entitled to decide for himself where he wanted to live.
His father was an RAF Sabre Jet fighter pilot, posted to the Far East in the Cold War years after WWII. Flying patrols on the borders of the the Evil Empire – the USSR. Keeping the bad guys in check in Malaya and the like.
To be a jet fighter pilot in the 50s was like being a steam engine driver in Victorian times or a Big Brother celebrity now. Any schoolboy who didn’t have a plastic model of a fighter jet hanging from his bedroom ceiling, or at least a picture of one on his bedroom wall, was what they used to call “a bit of a sissy”.
Fighter pilots were the biggest heroes in all the boy’s comics in the 1950s and 60s – the kind of people young boys wanted to grow up to be. Like Flash Gordon, Dan Dare, Biggles, the Dam Busters and the Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot, the few to which so much was owed by so many, as Churchill had memorably said just a decade before.
What boy didn’t dream of being something like that? To have a father who actually was one must have been a blessing and curse.
No surprise then that when the world’s first commercial jetliner, the Comet, developed by de Havilland in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, started breaking-up in mid-flight, jet fighter pilots and jet fighter pilots’ sons would take a special interest in finding out what went wrong.
What Michael Shrimpton and his father seem to have discovered, which both the BBC and the rest of the British establishment still don’t want to accept, is that many of the Comet crashes weren’t caused by metal fatigue- which is still the official story – they were sabotaged!
For anyone who knows anything about the Comet disasters, the effect they had on Britain’s aircraft industry, on its world-leadership in advanced technology and, ultimately, its Empire over which the sun never set, that’s a pretty shocking idea. It goes against everything we’ve been taught.
But Michael Shrimpton is adamant. So adamant he’s written to the BBC to complain, in no uncertain terms, about the BBC4 documentary, “Jet: When Britain Ruled the Skies, broadcast in September last year. He followed that up with a post on his blog a few days later. Now he’s promising it will be a key theme in his forthcoming book, Spyhunter, due for publication in the States in mid-December – because it’s “too hot for a British publisher.”
Well it would be wouldn’t it? Hot as in too hot to handle. Stolen goods. If it could be successfully argued that Shrimpton’s intention was to damage the establishment he’d be in the dock himself on terrorism charges and looking at the same kind of jail time as Bradley Manning, which is many times more than the average rapist or murder can expect. No doubt that, as an esteemed member of the Bar, Shrimpton understands that better than most, so no worries there then!
The programme rehashed the risible ‘square windows’ theory (neither Comet started her break-up sequence at the windows) and recycled the old Farnborough propaganda footage about explosive decompression, with seats crashing through the cabin, etc. Of course the programme-makers did not point out that this footage was irrelevant, as the Comets blew up at 26,000 feet, i.e. well below their cruising altitude, when the cabin pressure was comparable to that on a DC-6 or a Stratocruiser.
Mmm. That’s curious. The BBC recycling old propaganda footage, focusing on the irrelevant and ignoring the most obvious facts in front of your nose? They wouldn’t do that, would they?
Those who watch the video and hear what Shrimpton had to say in Winchester, nearly 7 years ago now, have some even bigger shockers in store. He divides his speech into three parts. The first two parts, which he calls the “boring bits”, deal with “our legal system and a cost-benefit analysis of how much it costs us to stay inside the EU”. The third part – the “interesting bit” as he calls it- will answer the chairman’s question “why do our politicians sell us down the river in the way that they do?” It isn’t included in the video because Shrimpton has demanded it takes place under the Chatham House rule, which says that people can use what he says, but they can’t attribute it to him.
I’m not a spy I just represent spies, teach spies, bale them out of trouble and do intelligence analysis . Only people who can’t get to page 2 on Google don’t know that I work in that particular field.
Hearing Shrimpton talk as a barrister on the issue of the Supremacy of Community Law is a bit of an eye-opener. If the EU could be seen to be democratic, open and transparent there wouldn’t be a problem, says Shrimpton. But it is not a liberal organization. It has its origin in Nazi Germany in 1939, which is not what you’d call a liberal heritage.
European law is supreme according to the Europeans. It isn’t in this country, but the Judges, with the greatest respect, have managed to get themselves into a slight pickle.
Shrimpton doesn’t like Europe then. So no surprise to discover he’s the guy who defended Metric Martyr, Steve Thoburn on trial for breaking EU law by selling bananas by the pound rather than the kilo.
Shrimpton didn’t do as well on the Thoburn case as he did on Pinochet. His eccentric Rumpole like barristerish ways don’t go down so well in Brussels or the Hague as they do in the average elderly gentleman’s club on the Strand. All the same. If you were in Julian Assange’s shoes, wouldn’t you be tempted to give Shrimpton a bell?
There are several reasons why Assange might not want Shrimpton defending him in court, apart from political differences that is. Shrimpton’s beef with the BBC over their reporting of the Comet disasters is a storm in a tea cup compared with his beef over the Jimmy Savile case. His theory of that case is that Savile procured young boys from care homes to supply to people in high places – like former Prime Minster Edward Heath for instance who, when he no longer had a use for them, took them out for a deep water cruise on his yacht Morning Cloud and had them dumped off the back.
Well, I ask you? Who could believe that? Shrimpton’s theory, that it’s all down to the German intelligence, is on a par with David Ike’s theory that it’s all down to lizards. And they’re both adamant that paedophilia is rife amongst the ruling elite. Which is odd, because none of the grand ol’ men in the spotlight in the wake of the Savile scandal – ranging from out-and-out chavs like Jimmy Savile, Jim Davidson and Freddy Starr to more middle class chav-sympathisers like Stuart Hall, William Roach, Max Clifford, Rolph Harris and the hairy cornflake – are what you’d call members of the ruling class.
Shrimpton and Ike’s theories of the Savile case are, of course, what’s now called “Conspiracy Theory.” Anyone who has followed the literature over the last decade knows that the weight of peer-reviewed scientific evidence has proved that conspiracy theorists have a screw loose, which can be infectious, which means the public need to be protected, which means conspiracy theorists need to locking up.
For those who haven’t been following the literature, the great breakthrough in conspiracy-theory theory was made 4 years ago by the great David Aaronovitch in his seminal work, Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History.
Conspiracy-theory theory is based on evidence-based evidence … so good they named it twice! It starts from the premise that the simplest theory that fits the most facts is the correct one to adopt. Which, scientifically speaking, is true. It’s known as Occam’s Razor. But Aaronovitch’s definition of conspiracy theory moves it on a whole step:
I think a better definition of a conspiracy theory might be: the attribution of deliberate agency to something that is more likely to be accidental or unintended.
“More likely” means were talking probabilities here, not actual facts. OK, so probability might infer or suggest the most likely explanation, it might even give a measurement of what the likelihood is, but it can never prove it. Only the empirical evidence – the experience of our own individual senses – can prove beyond reasonable doubt whether an explanation is true and useful or not.
That’s the scientific method, or used to be anyway. Whatever theory, hypothesis or explanation the theoreticians come up with it has to work in the real physical world which we experience with our senses of touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. Our common senses in other words.
Trouble is, as anyone who has ever tried applying theory to practice in garage, lab or crime scene soon discovers, things rarely follow the book. There are many pitfalls and traps along the way, many mistakes that can be made. And one of the biggest, most common mistakes of all is to take things for granted. To think you know all you need to know and be unprepared to be surprised. Arrogance or hubris in other words. The pride that comes before the fall.
Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle summed up the first rule of forensic, scientific investigation in his famous phrase:
Eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.Sherlock Holmes
The trouble is that if you eliminate the improbable at the outset, as David Aaronovitch wants us to do, then whatever remains can never be improbable by definition. So we can never discover anything that might surprise, depress or delight us. We can only discover what we already assumed to be true. Imagine Aaronovitch as Sherlock Holmes’, Inspector Morse’s or Hercule Poirot’s sidekick. How might that go?
Sherlock/Morse/Poirot/Shrimpton: That cigar butt in the ash tray is the major clue.
Watson/Lewis/Hastings/Aaronovitch: Nah it isn’t. That’s highly improbable. The more likely explanation is it got there by accident. Forget about it and move on.
So Aaronovitch’s seemingly scientific definition of conspiracy theory is in fact anti-scientific from the ground up: discouraging further investigation and discovery by ruling out the improbable at the outset. It is, in fact, nothing more than a restatement of an old canard in journalistic circles: Cockup or conspiracy? It has to be one or the other, and nine times out of ten its just a cockup. True. But if you find the one out of ten that’s a conspiracy then you’re on the front page. Or that used to be the way it was, before Aaronovitch and the history boys redefined science and journalism that is.
The tendency to see patterns in naturally occurring structures and events is a human characteristic that has served us well for the past quarter billion years. So well, we now can do many things our ancestors thought you’d need to be some kind of super-natural God to be able to do. The vast majority of the major steps along that road were made by people who saw patterns and connections that nobody else had seen. But once one person saw them, suddenly a whole load of other people saw them too. You could define that as a meme, the great ‘scientist’ Richard Dawkins did. Or you could just say ideas are infectious, which is more how your grandfather might have put it.
The problem is, of course, that sometimes people see patterns which either aren’t there, or are not useful. And spotting those kind of patterns turns out to be every bit as infectious as spotting the genuine, useful ones. How else do we get mass hysteria, Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds? How else did a nation of perfectly decent, civilized Germans turn into a mob of hate-filled genocidal maniacs practically overnight?
You don’t hear much about mass hysteria or the madness of crowds these days. For most of the last decade the talk has been about the Wisdom of Crowds. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the madness has gone. It could mean it is now so much like the air we breath we don’t notice it anymore.
So how do we tell the difference? Where do we start? By throwing all the patterns we think most likely to be accidental or unintended out the window? Or by working through the evidence carefully, in a detached, objective kind of way, testing each step against reality before allowing ourselves to jump to conclusion and rush to judgement?
That’s the way they used to do it in the old days, when scientists still did most of their work in labs and lawyers did a similar thing in court. Now most of that work is done in TV studios and they have to follow different rules. Long speeches out. Sound bytes in. Pretty young girls and boys? Preferably. (Much nicer to look at don’t you know.) Nothing that will frighten the horses or kiddies, obviously. And nothing your mother couldn’t understand.
Just imagine Huw Edwards or Sophie Raworth reading the BBC News:
“In the High Court this afternoon, barrister Michael Shrimpton accused a former British Prime Minister of ….”
How is that ever going to fly? More likely, if Shrimpton doesn’t start singing from a different hymnsheet, he’s the one who’s going to find himself in the dock!