Posts Tagged ‘42 days’
From Jenni Russell in The Guardian:
Only four months ago, when Smith gave a speech to the Smith Institute on the necessity of parliament’s shoving through the imminent plans for 42-day detention, the tone was much more disdainful. Then we, the audience, were given an imperious lecture that amounted to: We know what the threat is and you don’t, so we must be given whatever powers we need. I said at the time that listening to the speech was like wrestling mentally with jelly. Other than “trust us, we’re the government”, there wasn’t much of an argument involved.
Now, of course, thanks to the Lords, the opposition, the Labour rebels and vociferous opponents around the country, No 10 and the Home Office have had to learn a little humility. Bullying and threatening hasn’t been enough to get the key measures it sought, like 42 days and secret coroners’ inquests, past parliament. And since the government now plans a surveillance project that will dwarf anything that has gone before – a giant database that will track every call, text, email and web visit that we make – they have been forced, belatedly, into attempting to persuade us a little more and hector us a little less.
On the evidence of this speech, the strategy is not having much success. Persuasion is all about emotion backed up with argument, and the emotion was still reserved for “we know best; we truly do!” while the arguments still weren’t there.
Since the last few years of Tony Blair’s time in Downing Street there has been much agonising from the Labour leadership over the decline of public trust in politicians. This is a problem, we are told, because without our being able to take the government at its word on at least some things, the effective functioning of the state becomes impossible. The public therefore ought to be more trusting of politicians, and the current mood of scepticism is clearly – according to Alastair Campbell – the fault of the media.
The very fact that the government seriously expects us to be swayed by this kind of argument seems, to me, to illustrate the real problem with painful clarity. Democracy is clearly in trouble when voters feel the need to be suspicious of every public statement that their government makes on any remotely controversial issue – just as your relationship with your doctor or dentist would be under considerable strain if you felt that you were dealing with a mendacious quack trying to rip you off at every turn.
It seems that the government is asking us to believe that the solution to our democratic crisis is simply for voters to set their doubts aside and trust in the political class again – despite all the examples of state mendacity we’ve seen in recent years. But this seems akin to expecting a patient who’s repeatedly been juiced by their dentist to deal with their concerns simply by suppressing them – and then handing over their money for yet another appointment.
It seems to me the wiser course of action would be to start looking around for a better dentist – and perhaps also seek to get the old one struck off, to stop him from doing more damage in future…
From The Guardian, 15 November 2007:
At 8.20 yesterday morning, Lord Admiral Alan West of Spithead, Gordon Brown’s chief security minister, seemed pretty clear in his own mind.
Did he think the police needed more than 28 days to question terrorist suspects?
“I want to have absolute evidence that we actually need longer than 28 days,” the former first sea lord told the BBC.
“I want to be totally convinced because I am not going to go and push for something that actually affects the liberty of the individual unless there is a real necessity for it. I still need to be fully convinced that we absolutely need more than 28 days and I also need to be convinced what is the best way of doing that.”
But less than an hour later, following a breakfast with the prime minister, West had changed tack.
Sounding just as certain as he had barely 45 minutes before, he declared he was “personally convinced” that the 28-day limit needed extending.
“I personally, absolutely believe that within the next two or three years we will require more than that for one of those complex plots. So I am convinced that is the case.”
Lord West: Be afraid
Amid the UK government’s heavy defeat in the House of Lords over its demand for “sweeping new powers” to lock people up without charge, the terrorism minister Lord West has claimed – without offering any evidence – that “another great plot is building up again, which we are monitoring“.
According to West, who was in charge of the government’s attempt to get the 42-day detention proposals through the House of Lords, “The [terrorist] threat is huge. It dipped slightly and is now rising again … There are large complex plots. We unravelled one, which caused damage to al-Qaida and the plots faded slightly”. But West claims that another malicious conspiracy has now been discovered.
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I argue that conspiracy theories are not the exclusive preserve of dodgy balding men in smoky pubs – dodgy balding men in government sometimes fall for them too.
Strictly speaking, anyone who postulates a secretive, evil plot on the basis of weak or non-existent evidence, is putting forward a conspiracy theory. Recent examples of state-sponsored conspiracy theories include the UK and US governments’ bogus claim that Iraq was harbouring “Weapons of Mass Destruction”, and the suggestion, which we now know was made on the basis of a torture-tainted confession, that the Iraqi regime had offered chemical weapons training to senior members of Al Qaeda.
Given this track record, it seems prudent to treat Lord West’s new – yet decidedly vague – assertions with a heavy dose of scepticism.
Terror Alert Level: Comfortably numb
Check www.protectthehuman.com for the latest on Amnesty International’s campaign against UK government plans to give itself the right to detain people for 42 days without charge.
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I look at what can happen when governments demand ever more ‘sweeping new powers’ to curb basic freedoms in the name of security.
Having lost a loved one to terrorism I have no truck with people who think they have the right to kill and maim in pursuit of their favourite political cause. But neither do I have much patience with politicians who seek to exploit public fears by eroding vital checks on state power, and driving through authoritarian laws that will do nothing to make us safer.
The government likes to talk about ‘balancing’ the rights of the individual against perceived risks to public security from suspected terrorists. But there’s surely another ‘risk’ that needs to be brought into this equation – the risk to the public from state employees who seek to abuse the new powers that they have been given.
This is actually happening already with the state’s existing and extensive powers to bug, jail and evade scrutiny. Examples include the Sally Murrer case (which is related to the Sadiq Khan case in ways that still aren’t entirely clear), the prosecution of Maya Evans, the withholding, on the bogus pretext of “national security”, of a damning police report into the Foreign Office’s handling of the Julie Ward murder inquiry , and the attempt to censor ex-Ambassador Craig Murray’s book “Murder in Samarkand” on the basis that his quoting of his own words would constitute a breach of ‘crown copyright’.
If we give the government the right to impose a 42-day prison sentence (more than the typical tariff for receiving stolen goods) on people who have been neither charged nor convicted of any crime, it seems inevitable that this too will be abused for questionable political purposes.