Thursday, January 27
The Road To the Gulag Starts With A Single Step
I haven't blogged for a couple of days, mostly as a a result of another bike accident, really accidental this time. We had snow, it melted and froze, and the bike path was covered with black ice, with the inevitable result that I went over. Such a a horrible feeling when your wheels start to slip, the sick inevitability of it... a set of ice tyres would be handy. I thought I was fine, if shaken, just a few bumps and bruises; until much later and the blinding headache, neckache and nausea. I didn't quite make it to the loo and cleaning vomit from the bathroom floor at 3am is no fun at all. Seems I may have had a minor concussion. D'oh.
By yesterday afternoon, having spent the morning doing soothingly domestic things and fixing my back tyre, I thought I had regained my equilibrium, more or less. Then I heard the UK radio news; I had been waiting to hear if the Guantanomo detainees, being held at Paddington Green following their return were to be released. What I actually heard was Charles Clarke, beefy and menacing David Blunkett replacement, in the Commons announcing he was to essentially re-institute the Star Chamber, or as he put it in his own special way, (the one that tells you that it's all decided anyway and there's no need to argue) 'a heirarchical range of options that will be proportionate and non-discriminatory.'
What he actually meant was this: I propose to give myself the power to imprison or restrict the liberty of any person for any period whom I deem to be a menace to the state. I do not need to show any evidence to anyone, and there is no appeal.
I am having trouble actually believing that is is happening. I can see it, I can hear it, I am actually not at all surprised; but there is something in me still idealistic enough to believe that something like this couldn't happen, could it? Not in England, surely? Under a Labour government? It's pathetic of me, knowing at least some British history, to even hope that it couldn't happen, but I must've absorbed some of the jingo about fair play and the rule of law to still be having this instinctive gut reaction.
The reasons why this is is so wrong legally are obvious; it's a civil order with criminal penalties ( like an ASBO), it has no judicial oversight, there is no evidence, no review; the list goes on and on. It's also wrong constitutionally, in ceding the the biggest power of all, that of depriving an individual of his liberty, to one party political placeman. Because Charles Clarke, despite the imposing and statesman-like persona his media advisors have taught him to project, is nothing but in essence a political apparatchik. He owes his position to political patronage, and any decision he makes is tainted by his political views and adherence to government policy. The same would apply to any Home Secretary, of whatever party. By abrogating such naked power to the executive he also by extension makes that power available for political ends, now or in the future.
It's not as if he doesn't know he's wrong. I listened to John Humphries interview him on Radio 4 this morning and he all but admitted it. But he's going to do it anyway; he knows things he couldn't possibly tell us, we're all it great danger, there are enemies all about us. He has access to secret information, so secret he can't tell us, but of course he would never, ever, heaven forbid! use the powers against anyone if he didn't really think they were dangerous. "Trust in me, just in meee...."
Well, Parliament; you trusted the government when they and the Prime Minister lied to you about WMD - thousands upon thousands have died since then. Why should you trust them on this, when they're proven liars? But Parliament will trust them, it always does. Labour has a majority in both Houses, Blair's best mate is Lord Chancellor in charge of the judiciary, the Commons backbenches are full of Blairite hacks - all the dice are loaded in their favour. Blair and Alistair Campbell learned well from Rove's operation.
I don't mind admitting that this proposal scares me horribly. Coming as it does in the week we commemorate the industrial human disposal machine that was Auschwitz, and the millions that died, it seems like bathos to make this comparison but we appear to be living in a time where such a thing could easily happen again; our efficiency and productivity in illegality and killing has improved immeasurably since, just as inversely our consciences seem to have shrunk, most particularly those consciences in the Labour Party, that were socialists once. For Labour, that can trace its history all the way back to the Levellers, to revert to the kind of abuse of state power that caused revolution and a bloody Civil War in England seems a somewhat retrograde step.
Tony Blair is defending these policies. 'Most people have nothing to fear', he says.
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.
Pastor Martin Niemöller
11/28/2004 - 12/05/2004