Friday, 20 June 2008

Civil liberties

I don't normally comment on politics, but the current hot topic of civil liberties vs. public protection is one that I feel unusually strongly about.

I saw a cartoon a while ago showing a couple inside a house, and officers of the state were removing the walls to build a fence. The house is labelled 'privacy' and the fence is labelled 'security'.

Privacy replaced by security
Mr A and I were driving around Manchester when we heard about David Davis. For those not following UK politics, there's been some discussion about how long we should lock people up before charging them. At the moment we can be held for 28 days, but the Labour Government thinks that it should be longer - 42 days - just in case. Not that 42 days has ever been needed before, and the police say that it really isn't necessary, but never mind those inconvenient facts. The Government says "The people agree with us," but I guess that most people really think it doesn't matter. To be honest, I'm not sure why I think it matters; it's not as though I expect to be arrested for anything.

But I do think it matters, and I don't think people should be locked up for six weeks without any good reason. In the debate and the vote last Wednesday the Government won, although most reports suggest that it was through pleading and political dealing, since 36 Labour MPs voted against the motion. The day after, the shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, resigned as an MP.

It was amazing: we were listening along to events as they happened and were reported on the radio. He made a speech about the 42-day issue, but also brought in all the other ways in which this country is eroding the freedoms of its citizens, and we listened live as it was delivered. Nobody seemed to have expected it, not even his own party, and you could sense researchers in the background trying to work out what the rules are in this situation. I started to feel uncomfortable - I'm left-wing by nature, and agreeing with the words of this senior Tory didn't come naturally.

By resigning, he has forced a byelection in his constituency. The intention was to focus all campaigning on this single issue, so if he were re-elected it would show that the people did not agree with the 42-day issue. But what if he were to lose? The next thing that happened was the the Liberal Democrats announced that they wouldn't put up a candidate. Wow! They were also against the Government in the vote, so this demonstrated their support of David Davis's position.

It took Labour a week to announce that they wouldn't be putting up a candidate either. Of course they couldn't - it would re-open a debate that they had already won, and if they lost the byelection then their declaration about having the people's support would be undermined.

The strange part is that although the motion for 42-day detention was passed in the House of Commons, it still has to go to the House of Lords, where everyone agrees it will be thrown out. There is some uncertainty about what happens after that - it will come back for debate in the Commons, but if the Lords maintain their position then the Government either gives in and it doesn't become law, or they force it through using the Parliament Act. As I understand it, the Parliament Act should only be used for issues that are in the Party Manifesto, and this isn't, so by rights it should eventually be dropped if the Lords don't support it.

If this is true, then a) why has the Government spent so much time and effort pushing it through the Commons against so much opposition, and b) why has David Davis taken such drastic action when it won't become law anyway? Critics suggest that he's really after the Tory leadership, but I don't see how this gets him any nearer to that, except that some of us know who he is now, where we didn't before. Could it really be a matter of principle?

I admire what he's done. I don't know whether there are ulterior motives behind the scenes, and politicians aren't known for being the most honest and trustworthy individuals, but it's been a while since someone has taken a stand for a principle that they believe in, and luckily for him it's one that I feel strongly about.

Our constituency Labour MP won by only 266 votes last time, and he doesn't stand a chance in the next election, so the Conservatives might have just stolen my vote. If they don't manage to piss me off too much in the meantime.


Iain said...

Don't forget that this 42 days only relates to offences related to terrorism. This is how it is claimed that the people are behind this. I'm sure you will be aware that governments have traditionally invoked the support of the people when it suits them to do so. I suspect that the majority of people in this country would be in favour of the death penalty for murder. However, I do not think we will ever hear a government (or even an opposition) seeking to bring it back on this ground. I suspect that the real reason so much effort was expended on pushing through the 42-day limit was that the prime minister's authority has been so eroded that this defeat would have been one too far as far as his credibility is concerned.

travelling, but not in love said...

Lola, before you vote Tory think of these two words....

'Margaret Thatcher'

....and then think about the civil liberties that her government took away from us.

I don't agree with the 42 days - I think it is pretty abhorrent, to be truthful - but is an Eton-educated yes man what the UK needs?

Lola said...

Ian: What you say makes sense. The way that perception rules over substance drives me crazy - changing one's mind is a good thing, that's what debate is for, but in Parliament it's treated as a sign of weakness. For me, credibility is demonstrated by making logical effective decisions, not by mindlessly sticking to a point of view against all reason.

TBNIL: I hated Maggie with a vengeance, but that's half the problem with the current regime - they are emulating that Conservative government, and behaving in just the same arrogant, greedy manner. I think it's necessary that the party in power changes regularly, not that the incoming lot will be any better in the long run. I'm not against Eton-educated politicians either, as long as they can do the job.

travelling, but not in love said...

Lola, you have a point - it really doesn't matter where the person was educated, it's the person that matters.

I absolutely agree and feel I had a little 'tabloid' moment there...ha ha.

But I'm not sure he's the person for the job. I'm not sure that our current incumbent is either, mind you....

Why can't we find someone who inspires, who leads from the front, who says clearly what he/she wants and stands up to the opposition to make sure it happens?

We can't because 'politician' is a career these days, not a calling.

Brett said...

Why are people so scared of all of this, the only people who should worried are people that have something to hide. Bring on id card, security cameras and the rest, lock up terrorist for 42 day or longer if that what it takes, as a concerned citizen i think that we now are more concerned with the rights of the criminal than the victim, I'm just surprised that its a labour government showing the back bone to try these things.

Lola said...

Hi Brett: I suspect that many people share your views. All I can say is that I do not, and neither does David Davis. So that's two of us.