Friday, November 28, 2008


Until this morning I had no idea who this man was. I now hope he brings down the current British government.

Don't get me wrong - in my job I find it only fair to be completely non-party political. I'm not abandonning that. And I don't for a moment think that the Tories or the Lib-Dems are an intrinsically "better" ticket.

But the arrest of an opposition spokesperson for making known facts which the government would rather keep hidden is something which belongs in Mugabe's Zimbabwe or Stalin's Russia. We expected athletes to be wearing T-shirts about it in Beijing, though it seemed none of them had the courage.

Yet it happened here. In Britain. Yesterday. The government deny any knowledge of the police action in advance (amazingly the police timed their raid on Damian Green's parliamentary office for a day when there would be no MPs present to stop them - or they really would have had a fight on their hands). This was just a police operation (I'm sorry, when did we become a police state?) - but even if this was the case, in the name of democracy the Prime Minister should be publicly spitting feathers.

Is he? Of course not. And that nine counter-terrorism officers were used in the operation makes it even worse. There are gunmen in Mumbai, and a Tory spokesman on immigration is being chased by nine counter-terrorism officers. Arrested. Spending nine hours in jail. No charge, obviously.

If this is the political world we live in now thanks to a decade of the current regime, I hope that the previously unheard of Mr Green (no relation) precipitates a regime change.

As Christians we believe in certain things: freedom for the oppressed, sight for the blind, justice for the poor. Last Sunday we had the back end of Matthew 25 as our Gospel reading - when I was hungry you fed me, when I was in prison you visited me. It's Matthew's equivalent of the Good Samaritan, the Second Commandment seen as evidence of the First Commandment, because both exist inseperably together. Loving God and neighbour are not options, either/or, "attempt one of the above", but indivisible realities. We see how we love God by how we love the people he has made. And thus he judges us.

I'm glad I'm not Gordon Brown. If I was him, given the strictures of this parable I'd be worried Jesus would be putting me on the left just about now, and that wouldn't be a political statement.


Marcus G said...

Feel free to disagree with me politically. But please care about this. Please. If for no other reason than people died that we don't live in a police state.

It's easy to comment about the fun stuff, and I've got plenty more of that coming. But think about this too.

Hitler came to power amongst other reasons because nice people went quiet on issues of justice and freedom. Don't tell me that "couldn't happen here" when an opposition MP gets arrested for no reason & the government make no apology.

At least one or two Labour MPs have had the decency to speak out against it. Not enough. If you live in Ponty and see Kim around this weekend ask him about it. I certainly will.

the_exile said...

I'm certainly no fan-boy for the current UK government and I am fairly detached from what's going on there for obvious reasons at the moment, but I'll have a say...

Are you sure you're not over-reacting here? On the surface of things the story is this: the police suspected someone of a crime, they took him in for questioning and then chose to release him without charge. Not particularly unusual. Why should the government apologise for (or even comment on) that?

For the Conservative Party accusations to be justified this has to be politically motivated - what could the government hope to gain? Not silencing opposition surely. Silencing one dissenting voice? Maybe, but only if he has been committing a crime, he's not going to be scared off doing something legal by a few hours spent with the Met.

There is another question though - is it illegal to publish confidential government documents? Well, I think that if documents are given to you in confidence by anyone it is wrong to publish them - possibly illegal. I would certainly expect to lose my job if I published (or leaked) confidential work documents. Whether government documents should be more or less secure than a private company's ones I'm not too sure - I can see arguments on both sides - both related to the public interest. If it is illegal, I don't believe you would argue that politicians should be above the law.

One more scenario - that this is a trial arrest to see if there is public outcry - it will be followed by mass abductions, beatings, imprisonment without trial etc. Could it happen in the UK? Maybe. Should we be concerned and vigilant? Yes. Can we deduce that it is happening from one (albeit heavy-handed) police action? No.

Let's face it, the Met haven't had a great record for getting the balance right in high-profile cases in the last few years. Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

camillofan said...

You are right.

Marcus G said...


Exile - the difference is: there are rules about what MPs can and cannot do. Damian Green was not breaking laws but fulfilling his role as an MP in questioning a government which doesn't like to be questioned.

Check some of the links in The Times. The laws being used here are archane and already being used agaist journalists.

In a parliamentary democracy, the police cannot simply march into the House of Commons and rifle through an office; they were given permission to do so - but if they had come on a day when MPs were present, they would have been stopped.

They could have picked up the phone & asked to speak to Damian Green. It doesn't take 9 anti-terror officers to do that to a Tory spokesman. You can do it an a Radio FiveLive phone-in.

And worst of all: OK, so the police were heavy handed. Using legislation encouraged (if supposedly not in this particular case prompted)by the current regime. Then why didn't the PM speak against it & say that it was unacceptable in a parliamentary democracy for people doing their jobs on behalf of their parties and of democracy to be so treated?

Because actually, he would be happier if Mr Green was silent?

But that's not democracy. It's not freedom. It is fear gone mad, which is how we are all encouraged to live in a "terror driven" world.

We should refuse to live like this. And yes, there is always a first case. Given that it happened on the same day as the Mumbai bombings it went quite well for the government: otherwise it would have had far more news time.

It is the Historian's job to make analogies to other times. It is his fate to be ignored. As Steve Turner wrote: "History repeats itselk. It has to. Nobody listens."

Marcus G said...

Or go to
It's quite helpful.

Anonymous said...

Labour seem to have dropped Clause IV and imported the soviet codes of practice.

I'm not sure what to say, part of me wants to jump to labour's defence -and I think there is scope to- but more than I want to do that, I want to defend what I think a leftist party should stand for, infringement of our constitution -written or unwritten- is not that.

Marcus G said...

Mark - please, and I realise this is a subtle point, I am not attacking Labour: I am attacking the Labour government. Tony Benn (for example) has spoken out very clearly against what happened. But the PM is still mute. So I think he should go. We live in a democracy. If he doesn't get that, he doesn't deserve to have that office.

the_exile said...

I agree with most of what you're saying Marcus, but I'm still not convinced about your central point - there have been some disturbing moves recently - removal of double-jeopardy, increases in duration of imprisonment without charge, treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers - but it seems that you really do think that MPs should be above the law and maybe that they are according to some 19th Century regulations. I can't support that - they may make the laws and may have an exemption from some in the carrying out of their duties but they should not be able to pick and choose which ones they obey.

If the police detained an MP (or more realistically several) for long enough for that to affect a debate or vote that would be different, but the story that you linked to points out that the timing of their raid ensured this was not the case.

Maybe you are right that this is a serious blow against democracy (I certainly can't say that it isn't) - in any case we should take the possibility seriously and be vigilant and ask questions - there are many that need to be answered by the government, police and others on this matter, but to say that this should 'bring down the government' when there is no evidence that it is not a police operation without governmental interference is, in my opinion, premature until we know more about who knew what and who authorised what.

theMuddledMarketPlace said...

...well this household is divided.

Broadly speaking I'm with you though.

Maybe to use a 'friendship' example: were The Govt to be my friend, they would remain on my christmas card list.
But not be invited to drinks in my house.
Not this year anyway.

Matters would be cooled somewhat.

Marcus G said...

Another excellent piece:

Marcus G said...

Sorry, I'm having problems giving you this link! Try pasting this whole thing into your browser, and apologies that I've added returns in it.

the_exile said...

No, you've lost me this time Marcus - this strikes me as terrible journalism - completely ignoring 350 years of history during which (according to other stories on this matter - I've mostly been following on BBC News website - so make of that what you will!) parliamentary privilege has been significantly eroded or curbed (depending on your point of view).

And then he says "This essential contempt of Parliament could still have been mitigated by a telephone call from the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary." - exactly the sort of interference of the government in a police investigation that the anti-government writers are supposedly complaining about.

As I said before, I think this issue is more complicated than the opposition would like us to believe. This type of argument just pushes me into defending the government even though my instincts say that they are far from squeaky-clean in all this.