Tag Archives: database-state

Still fighting the cold war

Oh, I do love being right. Less than a week ago, I accused Charles Clarke of fighting his old student union battles from his vantage point of the Home Office. Then he goes and makes a speech that illustrates my point.

I agree with much of what Rob Knight and Michael White have said about it. In the generality, Clarke is absolutely correct. The media do get carried away with purple prose. But that in and of itself is no great insight, and it is clear that this is merely a ruse of Clarke’s to cloud the issue. What’s more, his invocation of the cold war and apartheid is to miss the much wider issue.

The first important point to make is that while there are occasional lapses into hyperbole, there are plenty of moderate voices out there expressing concern for the New Labour agenda. This article by Jenni Russell a few weeks ago both makes my point and gives you an insight into the wounded martyr complex from which Clarke’s speech spung. The sort of demagoguery that he berates here is the exception not the rule – and the main reason why I can’t personally bear the Independent these days (let alone the New Statesman) – yet all are being tarred with the same brush.

These demagogues are, remarkably enough, not twittering liberals, but hard leftists such as Pilger or George Galloway. Yet again, the “decent” left are attempting to shut down debate by claiming that all their critics speak with one voice. Yet again, we’re back to the age old battles in student unions which are largely irrelevant.

George Galloway may still be fighting the Cold War, but not the rest of us, which leads me to my wider point. That is, the problem is not limited to attacking the government on the civil liberties agenda (where critics have more justification than in other areas), but is part of a wider anti-politics agenda. That is where the poison lies. Where there is hyperbole, it isn’t limited to criticising Charles Clarke, no matter what his ego thinks; it is used to attack every single politician in the land. It has effectively shut down dialogue, reducing it to megaphone discourse.

Clarke can’t have it both ways. To this day, anyone who believes that Israel is anything other than beyond reproach or, worse, that invading Iraq was a mistake, is liable to be compared unfavourably to the worst Nazi appeaser (at least). The problem isn’t limited to any particular class or political ideology; it’s much wider. And it is a vicious circle: tone down language and you will face accusations of going soft; fail to give as good as you get and face the accusation of not having the stomach for it.

At its root is our obsession with dichotomy. Who do we blame? Hegel? Zoroaster? It doesn’t help that in this country at least our whole political system is steeped in duality: two party politics (creaking at the seams) within a two house legislature. I don’t see within Clarke any enthusiasm for moving away from such systemic problems; all he wants is for what he perceives as the “other side” to sort themselves out. He has made a good fist at attacking “Them” but people hoping for a sense of mea culpa will be sorely disappointed. As such, his speech is unlikely to change anything.

UPDATE: A lot of common sense from Martin Kettle.

Calder gets ASBO

The Mid, rather than the Jonathan variety, as Stephen Glenn has been blogging of late.

Readers will be unsurprised to learn that I’m not terribly impressed by all this. It appears to be more a case of grown adults behaving like scared children than kids behaving badly. The alleged crimes appear to be nothing more than a combination of anecdote and rumour exacerbated by a community that has whipped itself up into hysteria. For example, we are told that “teenagers have been using internet bulletin boards to arrange fights,” but does this mean that the kids are organising Fight Club-style gladiatorial contests, or that a couple of twats had a flamewar and took things a little too far. We are invited to believe the former, but I strongly suspect the latter.

One of the worst things that New Labour has done to this country is to infantilise attitudes towards crime and subsequently criminalise bad behaviour. Don’t get me wrong; ASBOs have a place as a last ditch resort when dealing with extreme cases. However, in general communities are much better at managing this sort of thing themselves. Yet every minor incident these days is automatically regarded as a police matter (and I’ve been to enough public meetings in various parts of the country to know how pervasive this has become). Crime is falling, yet rather than robustly defend this fact, Labour have actively encouraged people to move their attention onto essentially anything they find mildly distressing or irritating. And since the police don’t have a hope in hell of ever sorting such low level stuff out, a whole new industry has been created, endlessly creating more initiatives designed to create the illusion that things are getting worse and politicians are busily dealing with it. Anyone who demurs from this analysis is instantly branded as “soft on yobs” and marginalised.

I wonder how far this is going to continue; surely the wheels will have fallen off within the next five years? The new laws being proposed are so wide-ranging and so arbitrary that eventually the media will get bored of going along with it and switch instead to competing to expose the abuse.

Here’s hoping anyway. In the meantime countless people will be marginalised and criminalised with little discernible benefit to anyone.

Is 90 days long enough?

Matt refers to a letter in the Evening Standard tonight:

Roy Jhuboo, of WC1, tells in a letter how the Police arrested him for photographing around Limehouse under the Terrorism Act. When he asked why, he was told that he “could be a terrorist on a reconnaissance mission planing to launch a rocket at Canary Wharf”. He adds “I am of dark-skinned appearance”.

This is an important story to remember whenever you hear someone like Lord Carlile say

“I believe I know of at least two or three cases in which a longer period of detention would have enabled the right people to be charged with and convicted of the right offences.

“If we don’t introduce law that enables that to happen then we are not introducing law of sufficient quality.”

Does he? Or is he aware of two or three cases where the circumstantial evidence suggested that individuals might be guilty, but hard evidence was sadly lacking. Of course, if it turns out simply to be a coincidence then such hard evidence will take much longer than 28 or even 90 days to turn up; it will never turn up, but after a while it will be in both the police and the presiding judge’s professional interest to let the investigation continue as long as possible. To do otherwise would be to admit that a mistake was made.

Nasty as it is to rat on people of your own party, but it should be pointed out that Lord Carlile when he was just plain Alex MP was one of the main forces behind the Lib Dem opposition to the national minimum wage, repeatedly warning that it would destroy the UK economy. Once he left to go to The Other Place, Lib Dem opposition to the measure fairly quickly evaporated.

Good to see we have such calm, dispassionate people independently reviewing our terror laws, isn’t it?

Lib Dem ID campaign

I’ve been asked to plug the new Lib Dem Anti ID Cards.

Happy to do so, but this is a blog and so people will forgive me if I make a few comments.

Firstly, please can we move away from the idea within the party that petition=campaign. I get so despairing because the Party’s Campaigns Department really seems to think that is all they need to do. It looks especially poor given the quality of the NO2ID site.

Secondly, could it not feature a bit of news on it about what the party is actually doing on ID cards? It is remarkably content-free.

The Lib Dems need to embrace single issue campaigning outside of election time and through it develop a supporters network. But that means running as effective single issue campaigns as NGOs, not a vague approximation.