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Civil Con/EuroCon

If your political antennae have been sensitive to the undercurrents shimmering across the blogosphere, then you will have picked up the few postings alerting readers to the implications of the Civil Contingencies Bill. The dangers of this giant step towards authoritarianism have been publicised far more effectively both by David Carr and on Iain Murray’s personal weblog, The Edge of Englands Sword:

Lord Lucas has described the Civil Contingencies Bill as comparable to Hitler’s Enabling Act of 1933 which enabled him to transform Germany’s Weimar Republic into his own personal tyranny. I have now read it, and I have to say that he is not exaggerating.

Readers could argue that this is an invocation of Godwin’s Law and that, by quoting this passage, I have lost the argument. However, this opinion is that of Torquil Dirk-Erikson, “a noted Eurosceptic writer and learned silk”. However, in considering the passage of this Act, it should also be noted that the European Constitution has a section on ‘civil protection’ as one of the coordinating powers for the European authorities.

The Government wishes to push through an updated Civil Contingencies Bill in 2004. It does not mention the EU, but the draft EU Constitution includes ‘civil protection’ as an area for ‘coordinating action’ and the current Treaty mentions the topic vaguely. The Bill also enables the creation of arbitrary imprisonable criminal offences. It enables regulations that can delegate powers to anyone or confer jurisdiction on any court or tribunal. This could be an EU body, unaccountable to government or the people.

Although the draft Constitution gives us a veto on a European Public Prosecutor (the Government says it ‘currently’ sees no reason for one) Blair has said that he opposes permanent ‘opt-outs’ or being isolated in Europe. Although the amended Bill states that it will not change criminal procedure, the Government is happy for the EU to have over-riding powers to do this via the EU Constitution.

These developments happen at a time when the Government is trying to introduce universal ID cards and a ‘population register’, and has just announced a national database to carry information on all children, not merely those ‘at risk’ (Sunday Times, 25.7.04). Again there are worrying parallels with European developments. Amazingly, MI5’s website, which is listed in Preparing For Emergencies assures us that “the subversive threat to parliamentary democracy is now negligible”.

One giant step along ‘Chavez’ Blair’s road to a ‘managed democracy’.

Cross-posted to White Rose.

9 comments to Civil Con/EuroCon

  • plato wrote that oligarchy begets monarchy begets democracy begets tyranny.
    he may have been right.

  • Bill

    It seems the future depicted in Blade Runner, Brazil, 1984, et al. is coming to pass. I have a seven month old grandson; I fear for his future.

  • The attacks on civil liberties have been such that ISTM even without the CCB, the legislative framework for a police state is in place in Britain. All that’s needed is the will to apply existing legislation to its fullest extent.

    The CCB will make it much easier of course to put a dictatorship in place, since there’d be very little scope, and possibly even no scope at all, for legal challenges.

    But there’s a bit of a conundrum. I’ve been able to blog about these issues and criticise the government without fear of, e.g. a knock at the door in the small hours from some secret police. Moreover, criticism of the government and opposition to its policies (both major and minor) can be seen in newspapers, on TV, at the occasional demonstration, on various blogs, at political party conferences and meetings, etc.

    At the level of day to day life, it seems Britain still enjoys a good measure of de facto political freedom. Which begs the question: At what point, if any, will the attacks on civil liberties begin to seriously bite? (Have they bitten already? I guess some people in Belmarsh might argue so).

    Suppose the Civil Contingencies Bill becomes the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. What can we expect the consequences to be?

    Will the Act simply gather dust and frighten only those who read it and realise what it could allow?

    Might we be only one terrorist bombing (or even one major flood) away from a dictatorship?

    Or would we see a dictatorship declared in the New Year (the legislation would be on the books before the end of the year…)?

    Will living in Britain be a gamble on the government not using these powers repressively?

  • Guy Herbert

    JH: Sad to say, many people seem blithe in complacency that NO future government will use any any these gradually extending and enmeshing powers repressively–and further that there will be no freelance oppressive use of them by malicious officials. Waking people from ignorance is hard; waking them from absence of imagination seems to be ever so much harder.

    Some dubious uses of powers have begun to bite. A woman from Oxford was telling me yesterday about the regularity of roadblocks by Oxfordshire Constabulary asking for identitification. We know about immigration sweeps on London Transport. And the Terrorism Act 2000 is in use to extend police powers of search and arrest throughout London indefinitely, though the context of the Act suggests that Parliament may have believed such extensions would be localised, and temporary, covering imminent specific threats of, or the aftermath of actual, terrorist attacks.

    We already have electoral dictatorship through a pliant Commons majority. We already have a steady creep towards police-state, too.

  • Guy Herbert

    This is the difference (currently) from more conventional dictatorships, such as China: confidence. Criticism need not be suppressed as long as you are confident it will not be listened to. If public disquiet builds up, then we may see a bit more suppression of dissent.

  • Come to America while you can. Your country’s social control measures make the Patriot Act look like the sensible, limited anti-terrorism act that it truly is. Our worst tyranny is the War against Some Drugs and they aren’t very good at enforcing that.

  • What exactly is wrong with the future in Blade Runner? It is hardly comparable to 1984, Minority Report (crap film in extremis) or Brazil.

  • craggy_steve

    >> Come to America while you can.

    I wish, either the USA or Switzerland. Unfortunately, like many, I am bound by myriad investments in this country, family and business being the most difficult to relocate. We must change Britain from within rather than running away and abandoning it.

    As for the curtailment of free speech and criticism, it is already happening. Earlier this month several web servers belonging to indymedia were seized from the ISP Rackspace in London, apparently on the behest of the Italian government via a request from the FBI to the Home Office. The CCB will only strengthen the hand of government in this suppression, and while I fundementally disagree with some of the principles underlying Indymedia I fully support their right to hold their principles and express their views, for if their right of self expression is denied then mine will certainly be withdrawn also. All hail the UKs National Socialist party.

  • Guy,

    I concur there already signs of legislation such as the Terrorism Act 200 being abused. As for the pliant Commons majority, the mere fact it lets such legislation go through is evidence enough for that.

    Your point about criticism not needing to be suppressed if it is not listened to is interesting. I guess the point at which the government might start becoming more suppressive of dissent is the point at which that dissent either looks like challenging its power or at which the dissent goes beyond writing letters to MPs, newspapers, blogs, etc and moves onto mass marches, civil disobedience, non-compliance with ID cards and the like, etc.

    I find myself pondering the question of what the government can get away with in the present political climate and with the Civil Contingencies Bill turned into the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.

    You see, once this Bill is an Act, then living in Britain becomes a gamble on the bill not being used against you, or those you care about or being used to restrict what you can do or to require you to do things you don’t want to.

    As it removes just about all legal restraint on government power, one is left pondering whether the government can in fact get away with invoking the Bill, or more precisely under what circumstances it can get away with it. At what point would the public, the army, the police or a foreign power be willing to actually force the government to stop?

    What risks would one take by opting to remain in Britain with this legislation on the books?