Nov 10

Mister Blair (may I call you Tony?), I couldn’t help but notice on the radio last night that you got absolutely mauled in your vote last night. You wanted to extend the time terrorist suspects can be held without charge, from the existing 14 days to a whopping 90. You sent out the whips, and even pulled Jack Straw and Gordon Brown back from overseas trips to shore up support. Then 49 of your own MPs voted against you, and voted down the 90 day amendment. You tried for 60 days, and got voted down on that one too, eventually settling at 28 days. I think they might also have taken your wallet, mobile phone and car keys too, but I think by the time the voting was over that was the least of your concerns.

As a concerned citizen, I worry that detention without charge is one of the primary instruments of a police state, and I was worried when the existing time allowed by legislation was provisionally doubled in last night’s vote. Imagine then, how shocked I was watching the news that night when I found out that even at 28 days, we were among the softest in the world! Leaving aside those regimes around the planet that don’t even bother with civil liberties at all, I was shocked to find that France could hold suspects without charge for 4 years if they wanted to…and that in the U.S., they could (in the right circumstances) hold suspects indefinitely without charge! And this is the road you want us walking down?

What happened, Tony? You won a general election in 1997 that made “landslide” an understatement, and surfed into office on a wave of popular support that was unprecedented and gave you a parliamentary majority bigger than some eastern european armies. You promised reform of social services, a government that cared about its citizens and would create a society that esteemed respect for one another above all else. You were young, passionate, committed, and you got me to cast my first ever vote for your party. Last night on the news, the tired looking old man who tried to extend the powers of the police to detention for 90 days without charge bore little resemblance to the person I helped to elect. I hate to think it, but in years to come I think the words “wasted potential” will find themselves stuck under pictures of you in history books.

Simply put, I don’t believe we can become more secure in our freedom by sacrificing that freedom a piece at a time. If we gave the police 90 days, how long before they would say they needed 180, 250 or 365? It’s not their fault – it is the nature of police and security services to want things to be secure, that is what they’re paid for, and that is what we need them for. That said, a child will want to eat sweets until he or she is sick, and we don’t let them do that, do we? Sometimes what we want isn’t what’s best. How can you think it is ok to lock people up without a chance to defend themselves for 90 days? Surely you can see that to do that is to create the large numbers of disaffected, martyred, pissed-off people that terrorists are looking for?

Tony, I think it’s time to consider your position and maybe think about moving on. What are the newspapers talking about today? Are they concentrating on raising public debate on the balance between security and civil liberties? Are they examining what it means to be a “free society” in a changed, post September 11th/July 7th world? No. They’re all talking about you and what this defeat means for your authority. You’ve become the story, and in doing so you’ve started to overshadow the things we should be talking about.

I’m always going to be left of centre in my political beliefs and what many people would describe as hopelessly liberal (which, contrary to many, I believe means I’m more realistic and pragmatic about things and not less). I’m always going to believe in a government that maintains a strong presence in modern life and doesn’t abandon people to the tender mercies of the market. I believe in a government that is in a position to help, and should because it’s the right thing to do. I just think you’re now in a position to hurt more than help, and when that comes you should step aside.



P.S. You also owe an apology to some people who read my blog, they just had to suffer through this boring tirade because of you.

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