June 12, 2008

42 Day Detention: A Tawdry Victory and a Moral Defeat

Gordon Brown’s government has won the most tawdry of legislative victories at the cost of the most resounding of moral defeats. Credit to the 36 Labour rebels (for it is the government that is the real rebel here, rebelling against liberty and the best traditions of their party) who rejected the policy of detaining suspects for up to 42 days, and withstood the gross of bribes shamelessly hawked around by the Labour whips. A “grubby bazaar”, as the redoubtable Diane Abbott put it, was erected at Westminster yesterday.

Particularly pernicious therefore, is the line spun by ministers that it is opposition parties who have been ‘playing politics’ with national security. I know irony is something of an endangered species in the present cabinet but i thought at least natural shame would provoke some restraint. The narrow victory yesterday reeks of the smoke-filled rooms that Gordon Brown pledged to banish.

The coming weeks, perhaps as early as Gordon Brown’s Northern Ireland visit on Monday, will reveal to what extent the DUP’s turnaround rested on the government meeting their demands on water charges, asset sales and abortion. What we can be sure of is that a whole host of issues usually dismissed by the government as just too expensive, too inconvenient or too divisive, suddenly acquired an urgency out of all proportion to their prior standing. Such is their disparate nature, from ending EU sanctions on Cuba to financial compensation for arthritic miners, that one almost has the image of someone (perhaps Margaret Hodge, the Gambling Minister) flicking through a rolodex at the cabinet table and deciding that having landed on ‘C’ and ‘M’, it was the Cuban and Miners lobbies lucky day. For some of us these issues are as important as ever, and further shame is added by the fact it took a political crisis to stun the government into lending their advocates an ear.

Had such debased pork barrel politics been put at the service of a worthy cause then nagging considerations about ends justifying means would soon have entered one’s mind. To the contrary, it was employed to prop up a wholly unjustified attack on liberty which has little prospect of increasing security, and indeed may do much to imperil it. Thanks to research by Anthony Barnett we now know that of the six terrorist suspects held up to 28 days, three were released without any charge. There can be little doubt that the new possibility of holding innocent suspects for up to six weeks will fuel the very resentment and embitterment we desperately need to dampen.

In sum, the government has further restricted our liberty and endangered our security, whilst employing some of the most populist and demagogic tactics to do so. Another fine day’s work in the decline of the party that i still, though with more anger than ever, call my own.


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  1. Sue

    I wouldn’t mind being detained for 42 days if it meant that a real terrorist was kept away from the public for that long and I know lots of people who feel the same.

    12 Jun 2008, 09:01

  2. Luke Parks

    Yet again this government reads Kafka and sees jurisprudence. Utterly despicable. As are the craven MPs who voted this through. I notice that my MP, Rudi Vis, is absent from the list of rebels, in spite of apparently opposing such measures. Abstention won’t cut it, Rudi.

    12 Jun 2008, 12:10

  3. Luke Parks

    I wouldn’t mind being detained for 42 days if it meant that a real terrorist was kept away from the public for that long and I know lots of people who feel the same.

    This is utterly disingenuous. The point is not whether genuine terrorists who have been convicted of a crime should be locked up or not; of course they should. It’s whether we should throw away eight centuries of work and sacrifice by those who have fought for the freedom of people in this country just on the off-chance that it might at some point help to prevent an act of terrorism from taking place. For myself, I believe that even were there a risk in this case (and I doubt it) freedom is worth running the risk. And I travel on the Tube pretty much every day, so I do run the risk.

    12 Jun 2008, 12:16

  4. George Eaton

    With regards to your MP, it looks worse than that. According to the Guardian list he didn’t abstain, but actually voted in favour of 42 days.

    12 Jun 2008, 12:55

  5. Miller 2.0

    No surprises, I fell pretty much the same as you.

    12 Jun 2008, 17:49

  6. Luke Parks

    With regards to your MP, it looks worse than that. According to the Guardian list he didn’t abstain, but actually voted in favour of 42 days.

    Not according to Hansard though.

    12 Jun 2008, 19:03

  7. When I was younger, one policy alone of the then Conservative administration (Section 28) left such a negative impression on me that blindly of any other issue, I have supported Labour at every election – national, local, european – since I was first able to vote.

    18 years on from that, and it shocks me that despite the fact I don’t believe the Tories have actually changed that much as a party, I can actually see myself voting for them at the next election on this single issue alone if they made a firm manifesto commitment to revert it. I suppose I could vote Lib Dem but then that would risk this pernicious attack on our rights lasting even longer.

    I still can’t quite get over this and I find myself utterly unable to forgive the party I’ve supported for so long for having sold our civil liberties down the river in this way. It’s disgusting.

    12 Jun 2008, 20:19

  8. George Eaton

    Section 28 is always one of the first points i make against any Conservatives who defend Thatcher’s record. But the disparity you note is particularly appropriate given that of course David Davis voted in favour of Section 28.

    12 Jun 2008, 20:38

  9. Hamid Sirhan

    I can actually see myself voting for them at the next election on this single issue alone if they made a firm manifesto commitment to revert it.

    Are you joking? You’d like to see them perhaps fulfilling such a manifesto pledge right before they fulfill a Tory pledge that has been largely forgotten since Cameron made such an utter fool of himself: repealing the Human Rights Act 1998.

    I’d prefer this terrible labour government to have some infringement over our rights rather than a terrible Conservative government continuing where they left off, riding roughshod over them.

    As it stands neither party deserves power.

    16 Jun 2008, 21:43


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