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UK: illiberal democracy?

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 The anti-terror legislation needs to be repealed.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.

19 comments to UK: illiberal democracy?

  • Does anyone think Dave Cameron will make significant structural changes if he wins the next election? The Big State element in the Tory Party (the Toynbeeites if you like) are salivating about having all that authoritarian power NuLabour has accumulated at their disposal.

  • Everything that has been instituted in the Home Office over the last 20 years needs to be systematically excised. That means every function examined, those that are necessary given to new or other bodies, and the vast majority of the people working for the Home Office need to be sacked. This requires immense boldness and strength on the part of a government. I am not holding my breath.

  • permanentexpat

    I have ‘jeremiah’ posted on this excellent blog for some years now……..
    …..and it gives me no satisfaction to see ‘it’ all coming to pass.

  • As I walk this road, along with everyone else, I find that the mass media is no longer distraction enough to keep me from looking down at the path I am walking. The wedge is getting thicker.

    I’m kind of glad that I’ll be leaving these shores within a year. No matter that where I’m going may well be no better, at least it won’t be here.

  • Strength through unity. Unity through faith. I’m a God-fearing Englishman and I’m goddamn proud of it!

    Good guys win, bad guys lose, and as always, England prevails!

    –Lewis Prothero

  • Johnathan Pearce

    The BBC has been pathetic in their coverage of this issue. Well, given that Robert Peston, their main economic correspondent, is being investigated by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office over leaks of market-sensitive information, maybe the BBC wants to keep a low profile. But still. I saw the lunchtime news on the TV and there was no mention of this story. Nothing.

    By the way, do any constitutional experts know what ought to be role, if any, of the Queen in this? I mean, at the very least the Monarch should point out to the power-freaks in this government that their action represent a serious step over the line.

    I am a bit surprised that none of the US blogs have picked up on this story. Imagine if a Senator had been nicked for a similar trumped-up charge.

  • permanentexpat

    “…… Prothero is driven to insanity after V destroys his collection of priceless dolls in a reproduced death camp oven while having Prothero dressed up in a Commander uniform (Prothero was Commander of Larkhill);………..”

    “Strength through unity. Unity through faith. I’m a God-fearing Englishman and I’m goddamn proud of it!

    Good guys win, bad guys lose, and as always, England prevails!”

    Today’s insanity!

  • Midwesterner


    I’m no constitutional expert (obviously) but something that struck me very strongly as I have looked at various issues such as the dissolution of the House of Lords by virtue of ‘life peerages’ etc, is that the parliament itself has no constitutional power in the UK. The named powers are the Crown, the Lords, and the People in parliament assembled. “In parliament assembled” is a description of how “the people” are to present themselves. It is not a description of an actual body.

    The disenfranchisement of Damian Green’s constituents seems to me to be a profound violation of the somewhat distributed UK constitution. While the Crown stood by and allowed the Lords to be eviscerated (perhaps due to lack of popular support for them) I think the Crown could and should intervene against the evisceration of the rights of the people.

    From what I have read, the Crown has never lost most of its powers, but has merely been using them to rubber stamp the parliament. This seems exactly the sort of case where independent action by the Crown is called for, appropriate, and may be popularly supported. But the Crown will only have one whack at the totalitarian piñata and should chose its battleground carefully.

  • RAB

    Well I was quite good at Constitutional Law, but then that was back in 1972 when we still had Sovereignty in this country.
    As I understood it, Ms Smith is a Minister of the Crown, and can be held to account by the Queen for her, or the actions of her Department.
    This is never done of course.
    But in this event I would like to see Smith summoned to the Palace to explain her Departments actions. At the very least the failure in communications between her senior Civil Servant and herself.

    This may help on the Constitution.


    Did the action stop a terrorist attrocity?
    Did the action prevent a murder, rape or even burglary?
    Then what was it about if it wasn’t politically motivated and sanctioned?
    How are we, the people, served by this arrest?
    Well we are served by people like Green being intimidated to not inform us of the truth that the Government of the day finds embarrassing or inconvienient.
    That is no form of Govt that I respect or wish to have.

  • Where did you get the figure of twenty police officers from? The accounts I’ve been reading put the figure at nine officers.

  • Dave B

    @Perry de Havilland

    Peter Oborne has a good piece in this month’s Prospect.

    …Cameron’s critics like to assert that none of this is enough. They accuse him of lacking an ideological backbone, of focusing too much on presentation. This analysis cannot survive a careful reading of this book. It shows that Cameron is squarely rooted in a tradition of sceptical political enquiry that can be traced back to the origins of the Conservative party in the late 18th century, and can be traced through Edmund Burke through Disraeli to Michael Oakeshott.

    This is to say that he has an abiding suspicion of the state, a corresponding faith in the importance of civic institutions and a scepticism about grand projects for social engineering. At the time of the French revolution, this set of beliefs set Edmund Burke against the human rights theories of Tom Paine. Today, the same beliefs distinguish Cameron’s Conservative party from Gordon Brown’s government. “I am very much a believer that if you give people power and control over their lives, they will create a better and stronger society,” the Tory leader tells Dylan Jones. By contrast, he accuses Gordon Brown of wanting to “reorder the world from above.” This conflict between the progressive and the conservative traditions will lie behind the day-to-day struggle at Westminster as the next general election approaches.

    According to the Cameron analysis, New Labour offers change from the centre, the Conservative party change from below. Belief in Burke’s “little platoons”—bodies like the women’s institute, independent universities, a decentralised NHS, self-governing schools, the voluntary sector—underlies everything that Cameron says. This vision is intellectually coherent, and far more rooted in Tory thinking than critics inside the Conservative party have ever acknowledged. Cameron’s political beliefs, applied in 21st-century Britain, would subvert the way we are governed.

  • Paul Marks

    The Sky News headline (I watch these pathetic headlines in the breaks in Fox News shows – I wish Sky would just run the American ads instead, indeed I wish Sky would stop messing their sister station about in many other ways also) was “Tory protests innocence”.

    “Tory protests innocence” – not “oppostion spokesmen arrested to suppress dissent”.

    The snear word (and media folk only use it as a smear word) “Tory” and the avoiding of the real issue.

    As for “constitutional law”.

    As you know RAB – modern courts like that notion, but only when they apply it to certain Acts of Parliament that give powers to the E.U.

    So they can say that later Acts of Parliament (that contradict certain E.U. regulations) do not trump the previous Acts of Parliament – because Acts of Parliament giving power to the E.U. are “consitutiuonal measures”. So it is O.K. that about 80% of new regulations in Britain are made as a response to E.U. orders – with no possibility of democratic veto.

    Oddly enough things like the Bill of Rights of 1689 are not “constitutional measures” – so “gun control” (and so on) are O.K. with the courts.

    “But a SPECIFIC Act of Parliament could still get us out of the European Union”.

    Till the courts and other such change the rules again.

    Remember modern judges get their ideas of law from the universities.

    The same places that Mr Brown and his pals got their ideas of politics.

    “Illiberal” we are – “democracy” we are not.

  • I obtained the figure of 20 police officers from the mainstream media as the number required to raid all the premises that they designated as targets. I believe this totalled four.

  • guy herbert

    The police have obtained more powers over the last twelve years then in the previous twenty

    Although it is interesting that the reason for arresting Damian Green would appear to spring from the provisions first introduced in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which permits the search without a warrant of premises occupied or controlled by someone arrested for an arrestable offence. There is therefore no independent oversight of the police in pursuing the Home Office’s convenience in this case.

    The arrest was almost certainly not made with the intention of charging Green, but to get hold of his papers, computers and phones in order to get at other people (such as yours truly), who might have given him tips that would cause him to ask awkward questions in parliament.

  • Pa Annoyed


    I’m not going to get into the other stuff, but there is one point I’m not clear on.

    Was a search warrant issued and used in this case or not?

    Because several people have strongly indicated that there wasn’t, but the Met told the BBC that there was. If the Met lied about it, that in itself is an interesting point. Do you have another source?

  • guy herbert

    This is a question that Dominic Grieve is asking, too.


    It appears from this Telegraph report that there were warrants:

    But there’s no reason to arrest him at all if there were and they could be effectively executed. So it is yet weirder.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Guy, good point about PACE of 1984. It is important to remember that the rot has been developing for a long time, and much of it under the Tories.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Thanks, Guy.

  • Is there really any relevance to the fact that Damien Green’s lawyer also worked for Pinochet?