Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Baking without a recipe

And you thought this post was about bread? Tsk:

Recent anti-terror plans have made the government look in a “state of nerves”, a senior Labour MP has said.

John Denham, [speaking in his capacity as] chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, said ministers had initially produced a considered response to the London bombings [but he] said he was “very disturbed indeed” by recent events.

“The last few days really give the sense that the government has got into a real state of nerves,” he told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.

“It is displaying a lack of confidence in its own strategy.

“I think they have got to get a grip on it very, very quickly, stop floating half-baked ideas and get back a proper cross-party consensus on the serious measures that have to be taken.”

I lifted so much wholesale from the BBC story there because it’s an important point. Closing mosques, and charging people with treason (which, by the way, still depends on the original Act of 1351!) is a very quick, unconsidered, panicky way to proceed. It also damages people’s civil liberties.

One hypothetical case to illustrate Tony Blair’s haste, and New Labour’s foolishness in rushing at this time: imagine a British citizen is a member of the IRA (before the ceasefire). Then imagine he gets charged with treason. (That never happened throughout the history of the Troubles.) Then imagine his local church gets closed because it’s in a militant nationalist area. (That never happened either.) Internment happened, but after a completely secret preliminary trial? Nope. That wasn’t on the books at all.

Tony Blair has got panicked and confused. Because New Labour is particularly nannying as a government, it interprets an attack on public transport as an attack on itself, and hence on the symbolism of the entire country, and hence on the sovereign state. Hence, treason. Wrong. Treason is a very specific crime against an entire country or something which legally embodies it — like Guy Fawkes trying to blow up Parliament, for example, or someone trying to murder the Queen. Even though Islamic fundamentalists wish to panic a country, they do not yet call for the violent abolition of the UK.

Now, if New Labour want to change some civil liberties for a few years and write into new statutes a provision that they must be renewed every few years through a parliamentary vote, then by all means let them get a cross-party consensus and do so.

But if there is no consensus, it must not legislate with knee-jerk reactions which have a chilling effect on people’s rights and freedoms and which actually don’t match the wrongdoings they are meant to stop.

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