UK Liberty coalition – not before time

The forthcoming Convention on Modern Liberty gathering on 28 February will be a …. call to arms, to all parties, to resist the government’s attack on our liberties, rights and privacy. “(from Henry Porter in the Guardian)

Supported by the Guardian, Rowntree Trust,Liberty and Open democracy, a host of people, including well-known lawyers, writers and MPs from all parties, will discuss the way that

the patterns we see in the Coroners and Justice Bill, ID card laws and the Communications Data Bill (which will allow the government to seize and store every text message, email, phone call and internet connection) tell us that our democracy is under serious threat.

Woohoo. At last. Almost brings a tear to my eye to see a disparate range of people coming together to challenge the encroaching authoritarianism of our country.

There are events throughout the UK. Details on modernlibertynet It isn’t cheap to attend these but you can access news on a blog, facebook, twitter, and so on.

OK, I lied

Sorry, I know I promised not to mention it again but but David Davies, the Tory Shadow Home Secretary, has just stepped up* in a truly astonishing way.

He’s resigned from the Conservative party to stand in a by-election for his own seat, on a platform of opposing the “erosion of civil liberties.” Not just the 42 days but the database state and CCTV. Woot. The man is fast becoming my hero.

From the BBC report

BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson said it was an extraordinary move which was almost without precedent in British politics.

I’ve decided to list the Labour MPs of principle as well.
The 36 Labour rebels were:

Diane Abbott (Hackney North & Stoke Newington), Richard Burden (Birmingham Northfield), Katy Clark (Ayrshire North & Arran), Harry Cohen (Leyton & Wanstead), Frank Cook (Stockton North), Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North), Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne Central), Andrew Dismore (Hendon), Frank Dobson (Holborn & St Pancras), David Drew (Stroud), Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme), Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent Central), Paul Flynn (Newport West), Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow), Dr Ian Gibson (Norwich North), Roger Godsiff (Birmingham Sparkbrook & Small Heath), John Grogan (Selby), Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney), Kate Hoey (Vauxhall), Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North), Glenda Jackson (Hampstead & Highgate), Dr Lynne Jones (Birmingham Selly Oak), Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool Walton), John McDonnell (Hayes & Harlington), Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock), Bob Marshall-Andrews (Medway), Michael Meacher (Oldham West & Royton), Julie Morgan (Cardiff North), Chris Mullin (Sunderland South), Dr Doug Naysmith (Bristol North West), Gordon Prentice (Pendle), Linda Riordan (Halifax), Alan Simpson (Nottingham South), Emily Thornberry (Islington South & Finsbury), David Winnick (Walsall North), Mike Wood (Batley & Spen) (from the Independent)

I am very pleased to see my last-week’s hero Alan Simpson is in there in my new political heroes list. Plus a good few more. Blimey, a patriotic tear is rising in my eye. There is still some hope for the country.

* Apologies to the Wire for gratuitous use of Baltimorespeak. And, in case you’re wondering why no recent Wire blogs, it’s because I don’t want to do Series 5 spoilers.

Last irony on 42 days

BBC News24 interviewed the representatives of the “winners”, Keith Vaz and the leader of the parliamentary DUP.

Keith Vaz looked like someone who was eating a mouthful of shit while trying to cover up his innate gagging response. He claimed he would have voted against it, if not for the “concessions.” He’d better hope he gets paid back handsomely for his vote in the next reshuffle or he’ll have shown himself to have been spineless rather than merely careerist.

On the other hand, the DUP representative looked like the cat who’d just swallowed a bowlful of cream. (Possibly with a delicious dead mouse chaser.) He said the DUP voted with the government as a matter of principle. Oh yeah? He denied there was any sweetener for Northern Ireland. Although, if there just happened to be extra wodges of public money coming NI’s way, he would welcome it. He didn’t even try to keep from grinning.

(Vaz only stopped gagging to be caught in a snigger when the DUP guy said that, although their votes weren’t bought, the NI parliament would welcome any coincidental gift from the government.)

Government won by 9 votes. DUP miraculous conversions to Labour votes were … oh, let me see if I’ve got this right… Hmm that will be 9.

With supreme irony, he said the DUP voted with the government because the NI troubles meant they knew about terrorism. Well, almost certainly, they do. Most of us on the mainland find it very hard to distinguish between Unionist politicians and Protestant terrorists, for a start.

Maybe, I don’t understand this boring political stuff. But, this looks disturbingly like a government pushing through its 42-days TWAT measure by buying off a terrorist front organisation to defeat the opposition of 36 principled Labour MPs (and principled Tories and Liberal Democrats. Credit to all)

Tony Benn said that he’d never dreamed that he’d be present in Parliament to see the rights gained by Magna Carta being unmade.

Absolutely spot on, but, if he was less statesmanlike he might have added, “through an alliance that would fit seamlessly into a plot synopsis for Godfather IV.”

*****************************
I almost promise this will be the last on this fiasco. It has driven both T_W and me to distraction (along with Amnesty International, Liberty, the Tory and Liberal Shadow Home Secretaries, the thinking broadsghheet editirs, brave Labour MPs like Grogan and Abbott, long-time Labour stalwarts like Benn, old Uncle Tom Cobbley and all…) It’s probably going to be defeated in the House of Lords, anyway, but I will try not to not mention it until that happy day.

Internment Returns

Well, sadly, the craven government of the United Kingdom has surrendered to terrorism and taken yet another step in dismantling the fundamental liberties we have enjoyed for centuries. A basic principle enshrined in Medieval law was that the State should not deprive a person of their liberty without a trial. In practice this amounted to about 24 hours between detention and charging. In my lifetime this has increased to four weeks and now looks set to become six weeks.

Well done Terrorists.

If you are able, please try to find a clip of the BBC News 24 interview with Tony Benn. What ever your opinions on the man as a politician may be (for example, mine aren’t great), he pretty much summarises what people should be feeling about this travesty of justice.

Sadly, people don’t seem to be feeling this. If the statistics are to be believed 65% of the UK population supports 42 days detention of innocent people (which means the pop-survey I carried out at work this morning massively fails to reflect the UK population). I can only assume they all think the detainees will be some one else so the thought of suffering is alien to them. Even more worryingly, listening to the BBC Radio 1 street interviews in the run up to the vote showed me that 65% of the population do support it – but that is because they are beyond stupid.

One person who called in said 42 wasn’t enough and people should be detained “until they can prove they are not guilty.” Oh sweet Thor. Another said “there is no smoke without fire.” Lots of it was about putting the needs of the many over the needs of the few. Yes, I did just want to cry but I was driving at the time.

It seems we are reaping the rewards of a generation of bad teaching, dishonest politicians, media dominance and uncontrolled spin. People are no longer equipped to see when they are being led down the garden path and a total lack of civic understanding means that when they do suspect it, they no longer care.

If I could find a suitable country, I’d emigrate.

Slebs against 42 days detention

I’ve barely recovered from the life-questioning shock of hearing the Conservative Shadow Home Secretary (who, disappointingly, doesn’t do shorthand in a really dark house) talk perfect sense about the 42 days fiasco, on the BBC on Sunday.

(He said the measure would foster terrorism rather than defeat it, for a start. He said that mass surveillance and ubiquitous CCTV didn’t prevent crimes. Blimey. We are really through the looking glass now. I would have always thought agreeing with a Conservative would-be minister would be a mark of imminent dementia and here I am applauding his ratioality. Oh bugger.)

Now, it’s the turn of z-list celebs to demonstrate against the 42-day rule.

On principle, I hate celebs assuming that, having shown some skills in the tricky areas of acting, performing music, being born with a famous dad or being prepared to make idiots of themselves in public, their political opinions are somehow especially valid.

But, faced with the BBC’s “Stars urge MPs against 42 days” story, I can only say “Bravo, celebs.”

It seems that only Honor Blackman and Vivienne Westwood made up the celeb contingent that Liberty had assembled, which isn’t much of a celeb crowd, but was at least enough to get the BBC to notice. Plus Chris Huhne (Liberal), David Davis (Conservative Home Affairs representative) and Diane Abbott, a brave and admirable – or “outspoken left-wing ” a/c the BBC – Labour MP. Respect to you all.

False Promises and False Hope

The governments plans for 42 days detention of innocent people is unpopular and the government knows this. Unsurprisingly the opposition are currying public favour and seem set against the plans, but a few Conservatives remain true to their party’s ideas. Extended detention seems a very “Tory” policy so it is strange that the Labour party are trying to implement it and the Conservatives are against it but, I suppose, that is 21st century politics – no party has a policy any more they just want to get votes by any means…

Anyway, the irritating Ann Widdecombe seems willing to stick by her “Ideal” rather than curry public favour and she is going to vote for the inhumane six week imprisonment (with altered access to legal counsel as well) of innocent people. (Do I sound biased? I hope so).

Still, Widdecombe is not so principled that she can actually be honest with the public and, like most supporters of this madness, she wraps it up in false promises and an empty hope:

Widdecombe said that plans to extend the time terror suspects could be detained from 28 to 42 days would be acceptable if there was a “sunset” clause requiring the legislation to be renewed by MPs each year.

“My reasoning is very simple indeed: it’s that if we have a state of emergency then the government should be able to ask parliament for emergency powers, as we did for example over Northern Ireland … providing that the legislation does not remain on the statute books indefinitely until somebody gets around to repealing it,” she told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One.

This infuriates me. The idea that a “sunset clause” would do anything other than give MPs something to vote on every 12 months is madness. If this shocking law makes it onto the statute books it will remain indefinitely.

If we are, as some mad people claim, in a “state of emergency,” how will we get out of it? Seriously?

Al Qaeda is not an organised terrorist group in the manner of the IRA so there will be no Good Friday Agreement. They are not a nation like Iraq/Iran so there will be no invasion then “end of combat operations” (however spurious a claim). Even if Osama Bin Laden surrenders or calls for peace, how will this affect the countless (or 200 if you believe the PM) other terrorist networks?

Our state of emergency, if one indeed exists, is permanent. The whole meaningless-ness of “War on Terror” means it falls into that never ending list of “wars” we fight since we became a peaceful nation. War on Crime, Drugs, Obesity, none will end. None can end until everyone is dead. Bringing specific “war-time” legislation on the basis of this is genuine, evil, madness.

More worryingly, go back to Widdecombe’s example. The government did, indeed, bring in special emergency powers as a result of the IRA bombing campaigns. Policemen in NI were allowed to carry weapons. Civil liberties were curtailed because of the conflict.

The conflict in NI is now officially over. The IRA / Sinn Fein want peace. The government says there is peace there now and Operation Banner is now over. However all the emergency legislation remains – in lots of cases it has got much, much stronger. The original 1974 reason for bringing in 7 days detention for terrorist suspects was the “difficulty” In prosecuting the IRA. This caused public outrage and was described as an “emergency measure” to offset the massive success the IRA were having – ten times as many died at their hands each year in the 1970s as have been killed by Islamic Terrorists in the UK, ever. It is also implicated in several wrongful prosecutions (eg Guilford Four). It seems the end of the state of emergency which allowed for 7 days detention has simply resulted in it increasing six fold.

The recent ordeal of the student who was detained for only a fraction of this time highlights how this is not something a civilised nation should ever do to its population. If I was detained for 6 weeks without charge I would certainly be close to confessing to things I have never done. Likewise, when I was released I would certainly hold a monumental grudge against the state that instituted such acts.

Another thing which really concerns me about this is: The politicians in support of this law, and the media, seem to carry the basic assumption that the person is guilty. The talk is about detaining the person while they gather enough evidence for a successful prosecution. No mention is made of the fact this person is innocent. No mention is made that an innocent person has been put in jail while the police look for evidence of guilt. We have actually gone to the stage of allowing the police to decide guilt on our behalf. Wonderful.

It is a good job we can trust the state to never make mistakes, never falsify claims and all public servants are so well behaved no one will ever misuse these powers. It is a good job because the state is certainly not answerable to the public in the Wonderful Britain of 1984 2008.

I suppose, if people were allowed to sue the government if they were detained for 42 days then not found guilty (or not charged) it would be a bit more reasonable. But, basically, you will spend six weeks at Her Majesty’s Pleasure what ever the outcome.

That can never be right.

The wonders of commenters

As always, after reading an inflammatory post somewhere like the BBC or the Times, reading through the comments is even more entertaining, if equally infuriating. It shows that while there are significant number of people who realise the implications of the policies (i.e. they agree with me, that’s all I ask … 😀 ), there are a lot live up to the life rather than liberty mantra. As always the tried and tested “If it keeps us safe it is good” routines are brought out with sickening regularity.

Take this little chestnut from “Don Roberts, London” for example:

We live in world full of people who are determined to destroy our way of life and impose their own set of values, prejudices and beliefs on us not to mention kill as many of us as possible. I just wonder how those who freely oppose tough legislation would like to live under such people. Any law abiding citizen of this country should have nothing to fear from such legislation. If the price of our freedom is a little inconvenience, that has to be preferable to mass murder on our streets.

Where do I start with this… The first sentence is just a statement of the (apparently) obvious and bears little or no relation to what comes next. If this is true, it is true with or without the proposed legislation. The next sentence is funny. It is saying the poster wonders how those who oppose draconian, authoritarian states would like to live under a draconian, authoritarian state. Madness.

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