Hours to save liberty
Labour MPs must decide what is more important, Gordon Brown or our liberty?
Prime Minister Gordon Brown faces a major test today as MPs take the first vote on his plans to increase detention without charge to 42 days, the latest “compromise” suggests paying innocent victims £3000 per day for being held without charge. It’s nothing short of bribery to bolster Brown’s position. I suspect that the vast majority of South Shields people support the government’s position and believe the guff about The War Against Terror (TWAT), but this issue goes far deeper than that and threatens traditional values and liberties that are enshrined as far back as the Magna Carta.
Some of us are finding it very difficult to believe that we are in a “war footing” that requires extreme measures restricting our freedoms and liberties, we see little difference between the current terrorist threat and that posed by the Provisional IRA in the 1970s, yet those problems were solved without resorting to such draconian Acts of Parliament in mainland Britain. So many experts in the role of prosecuting terrorist suspects have already voiced their opinions that the 42 day detention is not necessary to help them do their work, and that the measure will be seen to be aimed primarily at the followers of one religion in the UK. This will cause alienation and help to drive more younger men of the Muslim faith into the arms of the more extreme fundamentalist teachers. This is not what we need, we need to engage them more, we need to see more and more communities such as ours in South Shields, where religious and racial divides are not seen as barriers to community cohesiveness, developing throughout the rest of the UK.
I’m not one who regularly scours through the pages of The Guardian, but I see that Sir Michael White has joined the calls to respect habeas corpus introduced at Magna Carter by King John, and he warns Gordon Brown that doing the right thing may not be right;
Like the 10p tax row or the price of petrol, memories of faulty police or intelligence data are part of Brown’s accumulated legacy, which makes it harder for him to win. Even if he carries tonight’s vote, the Lords or courts may overturn him.
With polls now predicting he cannot win in 2010, some tell him: “Just do what you think is right.” If 42 days is an example, it’s not working yet.
On the letters page two caught my eye, one from Helen Kennedy, a criminal barrister wrongly painted as supporting Brown who writes;
It is with enormous sorrow that I must urge friends in the House of Commons to vote against the government’s proposal for 42-day pre-charge detention today. As a criminal barrister with many years’ experience of terror trials, I have no doubt that the provisions – even with the hopeless purported last-minute “concessions” – are wrong in principle, unnecessary and counter productive to the community cohesion that yields vital intelligence in these cases…..
The essential “safeguard” in a civilised legal system is that you are promptly informed of the accusation against you. As a long-standing member of the Labour party, I am also very worried about the political folly of this divisive policy. I had long hoped that my party could begin to win back the many members and voters alienated by the war on terror and war in Iraq. Voting against 42 days would be a good way to start.
The second from Professor Conor Gearty gets straight to the heart of the matter;
It is the usual practice of Labour MPs and cabinet ministers to recover their civil libertarian consciences once they have entered opposition. Let no Labour member who votes for 42-day detention seek in future to persuade us that they have refound their principles in this way. If they should try to do so, let them be laughed off all such platforms. The time for the courage of their convictions is now, not in a couple of years or so when some hard-right Tory home secretary is further eviscerating our freedom on exactly the same basis (an unknowable future) that the government relies on today.
That’s right, this measure creates the conditions for any future government of any colour to introduce far more drastic and totalitarian measures which could destroy centuries of British fair play before the Law. Isn’t this exactly what the terrorists would want? Their aims have always been to cow us into moral submission.
Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith appear so desperate to push these changes through that they have offered a plethora of wooly compromises to buy off their backbenchers, they have even gone so far as “sexing up” the case for 42 days as Shami Chakrabarti discloses today (and if ever anyone deserved a huge honour, medal, or some form of gratitude for fighting for our freedoms, this woman deserves the greatest possible for her fight against this measure.)
It is so easy for so many people to think that this is a straight forward fight against terrorist activity, but this is to ignore the far more important issues surrounding fairness, real justice, personal liberties and the responsibilities of the state and the control of it’s exercise of power. Every citizen should retain the right to know what they are accused of in order to prepare a right and proper defence. No other western European nation is proposing to take the draconian powers that Brown’s government is proposing and I appeal to all Parliamentarians who read this blog to heed their conscience and put aside the Prime Minister’s difficulties in deference to the freedoms and liberties that we have accumulated over centuries of British history.
I do not expect South Shields MP and Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who has been recalled from an oversees visit to attend tonight’s vote, to rebel against Brown (his track record shows that he has blind faith and has never voted against the government) but the borough’s other MP Stephen Hepburn is not shackled by the conventions of collective cabinet responsibility. If Hepburn had the will he could join others and strike a blow for freedom, but I suspect party loyalty will be far more important to him than realising how swiftly a 42 day detention will become the recruiting sergeant for terrorists.
Mr. Hepburn, there only a few hours left to save centuries of liberty!