Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Enough (revisited)

Thanks for those who have been commenting. Exile has been disagreeing with me. He feels I am over-reacting and, from his home in "the land of the Free" finds himself defending the Government because I am being too harsh on them.

The worry is that the last seven years have seen more erosion of civil and parliamentary liberites than any period in our history.

There will come a time when we say "How did we get here?" unless there is a moment at which we say "This now is too far".

Suppose an MP has been helping a constituant with a complaint against a police authority. Up till last week, the constituant was safe in the knowledge that as an MP any such help given on Parliamentary property was subject to safeguards which meant that the constituant could fully disclose details to the MP because there could be no police raids on the MP's office to get at that material or at the constituant's details.

No more.

And this change comes not with Parliament's debate, but with the say-so of a civil servant - according to the Home Secretary. That is unbelievable.

Something like this has never happened before. Yet a civil servant can change the nature of Parliament and nobody questions it? I mean - nobody in the line of command goes, "This is new"? Or "Do you think we should run this by someone?"

David Cameron was informed beforehand. And what if he had rung up Gordon Brown? What if the PM had been informed by the Leader of the Opposition? That's an unbelievable scenario. No-one would have left the PM in that situation.

The Home Secretary clearly knew, as did the PM. A PM who made his name through judicious leaks is now seeking to imprison those who leak against him - that is not allowed in our democracy, or ought not be.

But - even if the Exile is partially right about my over-reaction (and I don't think he is) then we come back to this: anti-terror legislation should be used for terrorist suspects and only for terrorist suspects. For revealing the government's incompetence on checking illegal workers in the Houses of Parliament, for revealing that the Home Secretary thinks that a recession will increase crime, for revealing that some labour MPs would vote against the undemocratic and unBritish increase of detention without charge to 42 days, a Tory spokesman is a TERRORIST? Needing nine anti-terror officers to arrest him?

The police yesterday accused Damian Green of "grooming" a civil servant into making leaks. Using a word loaded with sexual overtones & saying he paid the man to do it. The man's lawyer hit the airwaves faster than a speeding bullet to refute those charges. I didn't know the police did "spin" like this; perhaps they have been coached...

Are we allowed to question the government?

Ken Jones, chief constable of Kent and Sussex police said: "To meet that responsibility in a way which delivers effective law enforcement to the people of our country requires complete trust between government, law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Leaks can and do erode that trust." So we'll round up anyone who questions us, and then there will be trust.

No, Mr Jones - then there will be tyranny.

I despise the terror legislation as anti-democratic. It invited such behaviour and we were assured it would not happen - how could it in Britain? This is how.

And I don't know how things work in the country where you live, Exile, for despite my many visits & great respect for its people, I have never understood the place. But I do know how we work. And it's not like this.


the_exile said...

Well, you knew I had to reply (of course). Firstly to say that I hope our robust discussion hasn't tried your patience. I only want to bring a dissenting voice, not annoy or dismay you.

As for erosion of civil liberties and being willing to say 'this is too far' I agree with you 100% and I agree that your scenario us disturbing (although I think you give too much credit to the police to actually work together to disseminate information!)

I also agree that probably more was known than has been admitted to, we need to know.

However, no-one is suggesting that he is a terrorist, nor was he arrested under anti-terror legislation. What department the police came from is not a significant issue here - whatever else may or may not be, that is definitely a police matter.

The police are getting disturbingly good at spin (remember the 'jumped over the ticket barriers', 'wore a bulky coat',...)

Thanks for the chance to (mostly) agree with you again - you are right to question this forcefully (as I believe I am right to question you when I think you've gone too far in pursuing your agenda!) As for where I live, it continues to confuse and dismay me regularly, as did and does my own nation.

Marcus G said...

I'm glad you are agreeing with me on so much, but on one vital difference I will go to the BBC site that you prefer to The Times, and which I also enjoy.

Here is a sentence from the current top story there:
"Officers from the Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorism squad arrested Mr Green last Thursday and held him for nine hours."

So I'm sorry, but somebody is suggesting that Damian Green is a terrorist. And that may just be another bit of spin - to show us that leaking bits of government cock-ups is liable to get you into trouble - but using those particular police officers is about as clear a way of making that statement as is possible.

Having this legislation is wrong. Because people with power will always be tempted to use that power badly. Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats says it well at the end of that piece on the BBC when he says:

"The government should be accountable to the people. That's what democracy is about. That can only work if opposition MPs have some power to hold the powerful to account."

And we are back to the crux of the issue, and the nature of a free democracy, and all that is being threatened here. And if the party in power is not big enough to value these things, then yes, I would like to see a regime change because I have had enough.

Anonymous said...

I value the fact that you remain non-party political, but I don't think that position is tenable in a situation like this.

I am known for my -lets call it- left of centre stance, and although I agree, the terror legislation is archaic, and civil liberties -I actually mean parliamentary privilege here- have been eroded beyond what is acceptable, but...

But, this is also the party that brought us the minimum wage, vast investments in health and education, the Human Rights Act -as if anything protected our rights more- the list goes on and on.

I fail to see that the current incumbents have done anything that the Tories or the lib-dems wouldn’t have done given the same opportunity, it is, unfortunately the nature of the beast -power corrupts and all that- but there is a difference, to me at least, Labour are on the whole a safer bet.

So maybe we need some changes, perhaps a slap on a couple wrists, but to bring down the government, that would be cutting our nose to spite our face.

Marcus G said...

The Human Rights Act?

You are having a laugh.

Listen up sunshine. Under the Human Rights friendly regime we have, you can be locked up by Anti-Terrorist officers for sharing perfectly legal information that (unfortunately for you) embarrasses the government.

If the PM had his way, you could be so locked up for 90 days without being charged.

Human Rights?

Faith without deeds is dead.

On the whole, two terms of anything is more than enough. The Americans have that one quite right.

the_exile said...

I'm sorry if I wasn't clear - my point was that which officers the police used is a completely different question to what legislation he was arrested under. This was not related to terrorism - nor to anti-terror laws.

"The Met said the investigation was not related to terrorism but counter-terrorism officers were used because they were the "most appropriate to carry out this inquiry". The Counter-Terrorism Command of New Scotland Yard incorporates what used to be known as Special Branch, which investigates matters with a security element."
(from here)

Marcus G said...

I am entirely placated. If the police say it's all OK & above board, it must be...

Er, so why is there now an enquiry going on into their behaviour, and why are MPs of every shade as upset about this as I am?

You aren't buying their spin, are you?

Or selling it?

Marcus G said...

Look, I know I am coming down heavily on one side here, and this is a very complex debate.

But the police have to recognise the special position of Parliament. (This need not compromise their operational independence, whatever the Home Secretary says in her more rabid moments). MPs should not view themselves as being above the law, but they should certainly be free to question the powerful without breaking the law - and that is the issue at hand. Using questionable (non-statute based) legal precedent in order to bring in MPs by anti-Terror squad officers is as bad as it looks. Intimidation of democracy by an arm of the State is an ugly thing. Ten years ago this would have been unthinkable.

There are other issues around. Many of them. Involving many people. Today will be an interesting day. I do not think for a moment that the Tories are telling us a complete tale either, and I started all this off by saying I view no political party as inherently better.

But we protect freedom by safeguarding its weakest link. If the police can do this to an MP (arrest him for doing no wrong - arrest him with anti-terror officers, and then say it was nothing to do with anti-terrorism, arrest him in a place where there is privilege which they marched over without evidence or due process, arrest him without their superiors being notified - allegedly - and then say that whilst anti-terror legislation was not used, of course it's there to be used) if they can do it to him, they can do it to us.

Do you know, that doesn't make me feel safer or freer? So I am being harsh and one-sided because due process has been lost. Regard for democracy and freedom is being lost. And amongst the government, concern for saving face has replaced that crusade for "things only getting better". Self protection is never great as a motivation for a regime: again I say, enough.

I remember an address by a former bishop of St David's, where he looked out at his clergy and finished his review of diocesan life with words that were bound to induce anger - though he was right to say them: "Repent or die".

Are our leaders good enough leaders to work for the good of the country or just for themselves? I'll change my opinion if I see the former in them.

But so far, try as I might...

the_exile said...

OK - thanks for bringing some balance back - I agree with you - we must challenge everything and refuse to buy/sell the spin on both sides. Of course the police are saying everything is fine - which it is not. The opposition are playing their role too saying that this is the end of the world - but it probably isn't. The government are strangely quiet - in the end they will be heard I hope - I want to hear from them as much as you do.

So far you seem to have chosen to believe the rhetoric from one side and doubt all of it from the other and you are still judging motives that you cannot know ('self-preservation') and outcomes that will become clearer with time ('done nothing wrong').

For me, I believe that everyone in politics is out for themselves - this means that the government (and their sympathisers) will try to protect the government but it also means that the opposition (and their supporters) will always try to cast government actions and inactions in the worst possible light. I hope I am not buying or selling and I apologise if I have crossed that line here. I hope you are not either.

theMuddledMarketPlace said...

i am so not like any of you guys on here..........so i can only say it like i feel it

( yes, "touchy feely",
but don't spurn that- the great british public go on their feelings and esp so at election time....)

that raid, at that time, in that place, for that reason, by those people.........unsettled me.

that's all

And generally speaking, I don't expect to be unsettled by the govt.