Overnight, the British parliament has been working exactly as it should. The House of Lords has been debating and stalling the government’s God-awful anti-terror bill, and is – entirely rightly – refusing to allow this horrible piece of legislation to get a permanent place on the statute books.
Poor little Home Secretary Charles Clarke – the man who wants the power to lock up any and all British citizens without trial – has accused the Lords of “digging in its heels”. Those four words from the Home Secretary are the final proof – as if any more was needed – of the current government’s utter contempt for the British parliamentary system.
The entire POINT of the House of Lords is to do precisely what it has been doing over the last few days. The Lords’ sole purpose is to prevent a Commons dominated by one party with a large majority from passing bad legislation via a three-line whip. The Lords is there purely to say – “hang on a minute, lads – this clause here looks rather conducive to misinterpretatition and abuse – how about changing it?”
So, thanks to the oddities of the British system, the unelected (and therefore undemocratic) House of Lords is helping to prevent the elected (and therefore democratic) government of Tony Blair from introducing fundamentally undemocratic legislation.
What Blair has done is mistake democratic legitimacy for moral legitimacy. The Lords, meanwhile, understand their moral duty far better than the compromised Commons. MPs are bound by the party line and – with an election coming up – don’t want to be seen to be too rebellious lest they have their funding cut off for the campaign season. The Lords, meanwhile, are technically in the upper house purely on their own individual merit. It is a personal honour to be in the Lords – becoming an MP is far more of a group effort. The Lords thus have far more freedom of action against the party line, and are far more likely to act on their own personal belief systems than one imposed from above by the leadership.
Yes, this is largely theoretical. No one seriously thinks the Blair government will deliberately misuse the powers of detention it would grant itself with this bill. But that’s part of the problem. If this bill is passed, it will stay on the statute books until the war on terror is over or another government has a sufficient majority to overturn it. As long as it remains on the statute books, there would be precisely NOTHING to prevent any future government from arresting and detaining its political opponents, or even people who might plan to vote against the government in an election. That is why this bill is so fundamentally undemocratic.
The unelected Lords are doing a better job of preserving democracy than the people we have elected to preserve our basic democratic freedoms. Blair and co. are, meanwhile, doing a better job than the terrorists of buggering up our traditional rights.
While we’re at it, perhaps a history lesson is in order?
There are a lot of angry people about, Mr Blair:
“But what do I do? Moan, vow never to vote for Labour again (nothing new there then), basically sit on my arse and complain. I suppose I should be out there putting bricks through windows or assassinating Tony Thatch-Blair (a mercy killing if ever there was one, i.e. a mercy for the rest of us).
“I suppose that all the active demonstrating that I have ever done (dating back to the mid 60s folks) has acheived – fuck nothing!”
Another take – Tony Blair is a liar, a control freak, lacks any degree of backbone and makes Robert Mugabe look like a really nice person – Mugabe comparisons a tad harsh, perhaps? (Then again, I’ve been known to do the same…)
Meanwhile, Lib Dem MP Richard Allan has found time to post amidst all the chaos, pointing out that “You may wish to note that today is officially still Thursday in Parliament as the House has remained in session overnight. Thursday can continue until Sunday if we keep debating and voting like this. Does that make sense? As much as anything around here I suppose.”
However, “No one really knows where this is going to go. The sunset clause seems the most sensible thing here, and I am hoping the government will finally concede on this. It makes sense to force Parliament to entirely rewrite this piece of trash after one year. Doing so does not “increase the terrorist threat” or “show weakness to terrorists” as the Government is saying. This is one of the worst defences of a bad piece of law that I have ever seen, and it is making me more than a little suspicious that there is something more behind this Bill than the Government is letting on.”
Meanwhile, the irony is beginning to sink in all round: “It is a sad day for British democracy when our freedom ends up being defended by a bunch of bishops, heritary noblemen and political appointees, but defend it they have done. Not only that, but a group of people notorious for falling asleep during debates stayed up until 6:00am this morning to vote down Tony Blair’s attempts to ride roughshod over the rule of law.”
Update 2: the BBC’s Have Your Say seems to show that the majority are against, but some people still think that safety is more important than freedom.
I have the perfect solution for these people: if the new legislation is passed, the government can lock you up indefinitely, perhaps in a nice secure underground bunker. Then the terrorists won’t be able to get you. After all, according to P. Bradley from Wrexham, N. Wales, “Security is very important and inconvenience is a small price to pay for safety”.
(Oh, and Blogger’s comments seem to be acting up – if you have anything you want to say on this and comments aren’t working, bunk me an email…)
Update 3: More goodness:
“Tony Blair isn’t so much a king as an emperor. Like Julius Caesar, he believes his own vision is more important than the processes and institutions of the Republic. It must be, because he’s a Good Man with the world’s best interests at heart. Anyone in the way is a either a Bad Man who seeks to destroy us, or a Foolish Man who fails to understand the realities of the situation.”
Plus: “How much political dissent can one express in public before risking being subject to a ‘control order’ imposed by the State? I’d normally think the term ‘police state’ to be hyperbolic, but the definition in Roger Scruton’s Dictionary of Political Thought is worryingly pertinent.
“police state. A state in which political stability has come to be, or to seem to be, dependent upon police supervision of the ordinary citizen, and in which the police are given powers suitable to that. […]”
“In 1974 Roy Jenkins, the then Labour Home Secretary, introduced the original Prevention of Terrorism Act, which went on the Statute Book in November 1974. This was at a time when terrorist activity in mainland Britain was an all-to-frequent occurence. John Prescott voted in support of two ammendments aimed at weakening the act. Yet the most significant power in this Act was to grant the police the power to detain a terrorist subject for up to a week without charge.
“The 1974 Act had to be renewed by Parliament every year. And every year Labour opposed the renewal of the Act. Some of the opponents now in the Cabinet included:
“1989: Tony Blair, John Prescott, Gordon Brown, Jack Straw, Margaret Beckett, Alistair Darling, John Reid, Paul Murphy, Hilary Armstrong, Paul Boateng, Ian McCartney.
“1994: Tony Blair, John Prescott, Gordon Brown, Margaret Beckett, Alistair Darling, John Reid, Paul Murphy, Hilary Armstrong, Paul Boateng, Ian McCartney, Alan Milburn, Geoff Hoon, Tessa Jowell, Peter Hain.”
Lest we forget, this was a period when terrorist attacks were commonplace. The number of terrorist attacks in mainland Britain since mid-October 2001? Precisely ZERO.
Update 4: The Lords are still going strong as of early afternoon. Meanwhile, Charles Clarke says “the country needs a bill which prevents terrorism and protects our people”. Yes, Charles, yes it does. So why the fuck hasn’t the government produced one?