My respect for the EU Referendum blog, one of my daily reads, has just cratered. It argues that because the person leaking immigration details to Damian Green had sought to get a Tory party job, and the leaks of such data were a serious matter, that the authorities were entirely right to treat Mr Green as they did. As far as EUR is concerned, we are all getting het up about nothing and that it is high time that politically motivated civil servants were given a warning. This is nonsense: given the vast number of leaks out of the government that often have direct impacts on things like financial markets, the use of sweeping laws to deal with such matters is bizarre.
What on earth has got into that blog’s authors that they should seek to excuse the use of anti-terror police in dealing with leaks that while embarrassing, posed no danger to UK national security? Had the EU acted in this way, that blog would have gone ballistic.
Update: EUR continues to attack those who are attacking this arrest, arguing that if the cops had suspicions that something was fishy about Mr Green’s activities, they were entitled to act as they did. But again, why the use of anti-terror police when this was plainly not an issue that raises national security issues?
I see that the Devil’s Kitchen blog, which normally has little time for the intrusions of state power, goes into an incoherent rant at MPs’ expense, saying, pretty much, that Members of Parliament have been such poor custodians of our liberties – which is a true fact – that they deserve no sympathy now that the guns are turned on them. Well yes but so what? The point that DK misses is how this story plays, or should play, straight into the hands of civil libertarians anxious to focus attention on how out of control government and its agents now are. As Brian Micklethwait said the other day, this story is great news for civil libertarians, and terrible for the government. Perhaps EU Referendendum and DK are so consumed with hatred for the Tory Party that they are untroubled by the significance of last week’s arrest other than to yell abuse.
The other night I rented out the DVD based on life in former East Germany, The Lives of Others. It is about what life in the former Communist state was like in the fag-end of the Cold War era. It portrays the extent to which people were spied on by the Stasi, and the brutal efficiency with which that organisation went about its job. It does not sound very promising material for an evening in front of the TV but the film is simply outstanding. I strongly recommend it.
Inevitably, given recent UK events and the government’s mania for CCTV, abuse of civil liberties and assault on the Common Law, the film has a certain poignance for a British viewer. It is also clearly apparent to me that once a critical number of people become involved in spying on others and earning a living from doing this, it is very hard to dislodge it but East Germany eventually crumbled along with the Berlin Wall. When, I wonder, will ZanuLabour have its 1989?
The arrest of Damian Green is quite appalling and so ridiculously Orwellian that I am almost tempted to vote Tory. I mean it.
– a commenter here
Last night I watched Have I Got a Bit More News for You?, which is the extended Saturday night version of the BBC’s popular current affairs and comedy quizz show. Something interesting was said, and even more interestingly, not contradicted. HIGN4Y regular Ian Hislop was commenting on the Mini- Pre- Budget that isn’t really a Budget, but really is. He said that the country had got into terrible trouble because of everyone borrowing too much money. And the government’s answer is that the government is going to borrow lots more money. General derision, and no contradictions from anybody. I don’t know what Germaine Greer’s economic policy prejudices are, but going by her other opinions, I thought maybe she might make some attempt to defend the government’s economic policy, if only by quickly changing the subject. No. Nothing like that.
Come to think of it, I have all this on my telly hard disc. Bear with me. Yes, here we go:
Hislop: “It’s a whole package of measures to save us all! We’ve got into terrible trouble for years by excess borrowing, so we’re going to … borrow!!!!!” Derisive hand gesture. Derisive laughter from studio audience. “That’s it, that’s the whole report.”
Young Comedian sitting next to Hislop: “Isn’t it that we’re going to be a trillion pounds in debt, after this?”
Young Comedian: “That is an awful lot … If you bring up your bank balance and it says that, you’ll feel pretty crushed, I think.”
Hislop: “It’s bad, isn’t it?”
Young Comedian: “I don’t know how I’m going to make that back, Ian.”
Hislop: “Well, you’re young enough that you will have to make it back. We’ll all be dead.”
Young Comedian: “I suppose so. I thought no one else looked as worried about it as I was. What was Damien Hirst doing in the middle of that?”
Damien Hirst has been laying off art workers. When the silly price of silly art slumps, you know the economy is tanking. Later, they had a reference to the fact that the bail-out is costing us twice what World War 1 cost us. Paul Merton said that this won’t be over by Christmas either, to general laughter. And, as I say, not a peep out of Germaine G about this catastrophe.
The central point is this. We borrowed far too much – Now the government says we must borrow far too much more thereby making our children and grandchildren into tax serfs – How idiotic is that? This is fast becoming the Grand Narrative here. If so, and given that the Conservatives are saying this too, that Labour melt-down is becoming a real possibility.
As someone who has certainly conspired with Damian Green (and LibDem MPs too) to embarrass the Government and the Home Office. I spent some time Thursday and Friday making provision in case I were to be arrested and my property searched. The reaction from the media and parliamentarians in the Green affair has been so strong that I don’t now think it likely. But it does seem possible. Before Thursday night I would have laughed at someone who suggested things had got so bad.
I was misinformed. Nick Cohen in the Observer picks up a case I should have known about:
Admittedly, when anti-terrorist officers arrested him, it was the first time they had held a suspect for trying to protect national security. But their motive was clear. Green had embarrassed the Home Secretary and made Home Office civil servants look idle fools. He and his source had to pay.
The accusations against Sally Murrer, on the other hand, were incomprehensibly trivial. The state said that Mark Kearney, a police officer and Murrer’s co-defendant, had given her the story that Thames Valley Police did not intend to prosecute the star striker of the MK Dons after a fight in a hotel. It also alleged he had passed on a tip that a man who had been murdered in the town had a conviction for drug dealing.
Journalists in free countries receive similar steers every day. Yet the police bugged her phones, ransacked her home and office, confiscated her computers, interrogated her, humiliated her with a strip search, separated her from her daughters and handicapped son and left her with the threat of a prison sentence hanging over her for 18 months.
As I noted for US readers over on another thread, none of this of course required a judicial warrant. Though the charges were thrown out when a trial finally came, the process is the punishment. And someone searched under these conditions might easily end up being prosecuted for something else, if police find evidence of any other offence in the course of it. After all, a lot of very common conduct is now illegal.
Matthew Parris today:
For me, Thomas Á Becket and Canterbury Cathedral spring to mind. I picture an infuriated Prime Minister bellowing at a flat-screen television: “Will nobody rid me of these troublesome leaks?” Who the four knights were who took it upon themselves to act upon the presumed wishes of a maddened monarch, we may never know, but when Mr Brown insists that he didn’t actually know, it is possible to believe him.
Just what I was thinking. And just like Henry II before him, Gordon Brown will have to carry the can for this, and suffer whatever is now the equivalent of an annual public flogging. Constant references to this from now on in the history books, is my guess. For the point is that although Ministerial and Prime Ministerial protestations of ignorance about this absurd outrage may be true, Ministers and the Prime Minister have spent the last decade creating the atmosphere within which “anti-terrorist” policemen would indeed come to think that such conduct as arresting an opposition politician is some kind of duty.
Coincidentally, and perhaps I’m wrong to defy Godwin’s Law but I’ll do it anyway, I have recently been reading this book (more from me in connection with it here), which concerns the various big decisions taken between 1940 and 1941 by the various war leaders: Britain resists, Roosevelt helps Britain, Stalin decides that Hitler won’t invade Russia, Hitler invades Russia, Japan attacks USA, Hitler declares war on USA, that kind of thing. The final one is: Hitler decides to murder the Jews. And in that horrifically more portentous matter you get the same thing, of Hitler not being personally pinnable down with anything like exact foreknowledge of this or that particular burst of slaughter. Nothing was ever put into writing and signed Adolf Hitler. But he was responsible nevertheless, because he created the atmosphere within which his underlings did their worst. He set the tone.
Well, now, in this by comparison farcical little episode, Gordon Brown set the tone, and lesser creatures went to work. And I’m very glad it has happened. During my adult lifetime, I have watched politicians get cleverer and cleverer at enacting policies not by announcing them, debating them, and then doing them, but by just doing them, a little bit at a time, slice by slice, with no one slice being big enough to unite the potential opposition, but the resulting dish nevertheless amounting to a huge and often deeply disagreeable change. Think: EU. In such an atmosphere, you actually cheer when, emboldened by the silence that greets the usual and thin kind of slice, they instead make a grab for a much thicker slice. For suddenly it is clear to all what went on, and what has been going on for a decade and more.
What the hell? Why don’t we just arrest the bastard and do him over for a few hours? Who the hell f—ing cares who Damian f—ing Green is? Yeah, go for it. Time these f—ers learned their f—ing lesson.
Yes, comparisons with Hitler are over-dramatic, as are the more common comparisons being made now in all the other pieces like this one being scribbled and blogged by all the other no-name scribblers and bloggers like me, with Robert Mugabe’s hideous misrule of Zimbabwe. Matthew Parris mentions them in his piece, quoted above, noting their oddity yet ubiquity, but not ridiculing them any more than I do. For that is what goes on at the very bottom of the slippery slope we are on here. Those are the comparisons that spring to mind, even as you realise that they are out of all proportion. They go to to kind of deed this was, to its dramatic structure, so to speak, even if the scale and intensity of this particular deed was trivial by comparison.
As far as Damian Green was concerned, this has been wonderful. He is probably now having more fun than he ever has before or ever will again. And yes, it is Damian and not Damien. Who knew? Not me, until today.
I include references to f—ing and f—ers very deliberately. That our rulers now swear a lot more than they used to is all part of that atmosphere, that tone, that they have been so busily creating. It is an atmosphere in which there are now so many laws, and laws which are so sweeping in their scope, that all are now guilty. The law simplifies down to the question: do they like you? If they really really do not like you, look out, they’ll come for, and find or make up the laws they need as they go along. That a front bench politician has been, very publicly, on the receiving end of this parody of the idea of law is cause not for rage and more swearing, but for rejoicing.
The events surrounding the arrest of Damien Green have caused a political storm amongst parliamentarians. From the Labour government we have heard that Ministers had “no prior knowledge” of the arrests, though the permanent secretary of the Home Office instituted the leak investigation, and that the “operational independence” of the police should not be questioned or circumscribed. These lines were agreed quickly by the government’s news management team have held for now.
The police raid was undertaken by twenty counter-terrorist officers on the specious common law grounds that would seem to give them carte blanche to target anyone and everyone. From this base, and with the Speaker’s permission, they seized Damien Green’s constituency material and disenfranchised his electorate. The timing of the raid, at a time when parliamentary privileges are at their weakest and coincidental with the resignation of Sir Ian Blair, speaks volumes.
Whoever know about the raid does not detract from a number of points.
There is no longer a clear distinction between the state and the Labour party after thirteen years in power. The government has extended its powers through legislation and no longer recognises distinct checks and balances, using bureaucracy to institutionalise an illiberal, authoritarian, secretive and arbitrary state. This is an aim of their civil service counterparts, and even if Jacqui Smith did not know, it is clear that she has no capability of combating the authoritarian objectives of the Home Office.
The police have obtained more powers over the last twelve years then in the previous twenty and can use them to harass individuals and political parties, though this depends upon the whims of the local Chief Constable. Traffic Taliban, anyone? Uncontrolled state institutions with wide and undefined powers can run riot as their own agendas spin out and away from their political masters. From the current events, the Metropolitan police requires close scrutiny, as a coterie of Blairite officers (in possible cahoots with the Labour party), may be gunning for the opposition. The anti-terror legislation needs to be repealed.
If the Sunday papers provides fresh evidence that the Labour government had prior knowledge of the arrest or that the police were politically motivated in undertaking this arrest, then the constitutional wreckage of Thursday will be recast in a more sinister light. Then the probability that Gordon Brown will be willing to use the powers of the state on a wider scale to hobble and undermine the opposition is increased, up to using the enabling act. But we can ask if Britain is now an illiberal democracy.
On a positive note, the abuse of power widens the constituency opposed to the arbitrary and frightening tools of surveillance that have been pooled together by this government. What a shame that it takes the Daily Mail rather than the Guardian or the Independent to champion our liberties. Our politics are now so embittered and twisted that left-wing pundits prefer to piss on our liberties rather than forsake their party. They need to be cast out in the cold for more than a generation till they learn that it is not my party: right or wrong.
As the terrible events in Mumbai have reminded us – I have some ex-colleagues who work there – terrorism remains an ever-present threat. Even while the economic stories dominated our news headlines in recent months, I had a nagging worry that the jihadis were not going to pass up the chance to strike, particularly with a new US president on the way. So terrorism is back as a topic in the most awful way imaginable.
So it is all the more extraordinary that counter-terrorist police, instead of actually trying to deal with terrorists, were instead employed in the highly dodgy arrest of Tory MP Damian Green, who had received leaked information on immigration into the UK and who, like any half-competent politician, was trying to use this information to add to the debate on immigration. Now whatever one thinks about immigration – and Samizdata has gone over this issue many times – it seems deeply sinister that a man who had received leaked details about the numbers involved should find his collar felt by Pc Plod. Considering all the vast numbers of leaks out of the government, which sometimes have direct impacts on markets and livelihoods, this is bad. This is the first time I can recall that a senior MP has been arrested on what looks suspiciously like an attempt by the authorities to shut up a political party. No wonder that Tory leader David Cameron is demanding action on this. Whether he gets it remains to be seen.
Mr Green’s actions are not remotely in the same bracket as the very serious allegations of receipt of oil-for-food funds that have been levelled against the Saddam apologist, George Galloway. At least in the latter case one could see why Galloway should, at the very least, have had a little chat with the police. As for Mr Green, his treatment looks downright sinister. When people throw around the words “police state” to describe what Britain has become, it all too easy to roll the eyes. But if this case does wake this country up a bit, it will have served some purpose.
Philip Johnston in the Daily Telegraph agrees.
Update: Old Holborn puts up this graphic, via Guido Fawkes.
Suggestion to the Tories: refuse to turn up for the State Opening of Parliament on Wednesday. Seriously. Do not turn up, but tell the government to go and boil its collective head.
Things have really got that bad. Can a no-confidence motion be far off?
I agree with all those who are now saying that the England cricket tour of India should not be interrupted, in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. My understanding of terrorism is that what makes it such a headache to defend against, given that in India people generally are not allowed to carry guns (correct?), is not knowing when or where they might strike. But if you have a number of set-piece, high profile events to defend, with definite times and places attached to them, you can. It will be cumbersome and tiresome, and expensive, with lots more frisking of people who look like they might be terrorists, and lots more frisking of people who do not look at all like terrorists, both to avoid upsetting people who look like terrorists and to make sure that any terrorist plan deliberately not to look like a terrorist is also guarded against. But if the authorities and people of India are willing to put up with all that, then so should our cricketers be.
I am even opposed to the final two one-dayers being cancelled, although I daresay the Indian authorities would not have had the time to make their dispositions, given that the one-dayers would have been very soon. But the test matches should definitely go ahead, including and especially the second one, which they have already, regrettably, moved from Mumbai to Chennai. I guess the Mumbai police have enough on their hands already, or think they have.
Playing those two one-dayers would have changed nothing in a cricketing way. 5-0 to India would almost certainly have become 7-0 to India, but playing those games, and the Mumbai test in Mumbai, would have made another and bigger point. I daresay that, because of their disappointing cricket, England’s cricketers are not now very highly regarded in India. This would be a chance to get back into India’s good books. Risky? Maybe, a little. But also, given the money now disposed of by India’s cricket fans and by Indians generally, to make this small stand against terrorism might also been, you know, rather lucrative. But headlines like Pietersen wants security assurances don’t strike the right note at all. This guy had a great chance to make a much more positive statement than that, but he muffed it.
As James Forsyth put it yesterday:
Imagine how we would have felt if after the 7/7 bombings the Australian cricket team had headed to Heathrow.
And commenter CG added:
Some of the star players in the Australian Rugby League team wanted the team to pull out of their English tour in 2001. When they were told that they would be replaced by more willing players, and may not get their places back, they decided to come after all.
I know, I know. The reckless courage of the non-combatant. But I didn’t stop using London’s buses and underground trains in the immediate aftermath of 7/7, still less run away to the country.
Richard North on UK writer, actor and travel writer, Stephen Fry:
As he takes us on his taxi-ride around the US, he is not ostensibly defending the place, though in his accompanying notes (in interviews and on his website) that seems to be his mission. It is easier to warm to Mr Fry’s account. He seems a nice old thing. But he has a striking narrowness of mind, best exemplified by the disdain with which he passed by Miami as too horrid to detain him. He sneers too easily. I doubt that he is quite as clever as he thinks, though he clearly has a good memory and has an intense middlebrow love of science.
Brrr, that was venomous! Considering that Mr North dislikes Fry’s sneering, that is quite a snide comment itself. Ouch, as they say. Even so, Mr North has a good review of a number of books written by folk about the US recently. He does not seem very impressed by them.
I still think the greatest book written about the US from an outsider is Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.
I just love gadgets, and this has to be one of the funniest. Ideal for bloggers at breakfast.
Is this what it must have felt like in the 1930’s?