A successful terrorist attack on London could make part of the capital uninhabitable for decades and make Britain permanently poorer. Yet, while London awaits its fate, Scotland Yard is fiddling away on an enquiry into the alleged sale of honours. How can the Metropolitan commissioner defend this enquiry as the best use of scarce police resources?
A successful terrorist attack on London could make part of the capital uninhabitable for decades and make Britain permanently poorer. Yet, while London awaits its fate, Scotland Yard is fiddling away on investigating the burglarly of Frank Field’s house. How can the Metropolitan commissioner defend this enquiry as the best use of scarce police resources?
The Guardian reports that,
An overwhelming majority of people in Britain are willing to surrender civil liberties to help tackle the threat of terrorism, the nation’s leading social research institute will disclose today.
I can’t link to the survey because isn’t freely available online. However, it can be purchased from the Sage Publications website.
The survey found seven in every 10 people think compulsory identity cards for all adults would be “a price worth paying” to reduce the threat of terrorism.
I would be very interested to see the question, as this proportion seems quite high compared to the results of the most recent surveys that I’m aware of, which put support at about 50%.
Eight in 10 say the authorities should be able to tap the phones of people suspected of involvement in terrorism, open their mail and impose electronic tagging or home curfews.
Again I’d like to see the exact wording but this result doesn’t surprise me at all. Who would argue with such a proposition?
On the other hand, what proportion would support the proposition that the authorities should be able to tap anyone’s phones, open our emails, and impose electronic tagging or home curfews on anyone of us?
I suspect that it would be much less than 8 in 10.
I think the wording of questions is critical to the response.
In my opinion there is a recent survey that shows this very well. As indeed does the claim above, that “The poll found people were less inclined to support civil liberties when asked questions mentioning terrorism”.
Have a look at page 14 of the Ipsos MORI document (182Kb PDF), “How should we update the relationship between citizens and the state, focussing on rights and responsibilities?” (part of the Government’s Citizens Forums project).
A majority of people, 61%, agree with the statement, “The Government should do more to protect people by passing laws that ban dangerous activities”.
On the other hand, 62% agree with the statement, “The Government does not trust ordinary people to make their own decisions about dangerous activities”.
Back to the Guardian:
The findings come from the annual British Social Attitudes survey, based on interviews with a sample of 3,000 adults by the National Centre for Social Research. …
The report said support for civil liberties in Britain peaked in 1990, before going into a steep decline. In 1990, 9% of adults thought the police should be allowed to question suspects for up to a week without letting them see a solicitor. In the latest interviews, this nearly trebled to 25%.
In 1990, 40% disagreed with the proposition that every adult should carry an identity card. That proportion has nearly halved, to 22%.
Much of this hardening of attitudes occurred in the mid-1990s, before people’s views were influenced by possible dangers of Islamic terrorism. The researchers decided the main reason was a slackening of concern for civil liberties among voters who were influenced by the tough rhetoric of Tony Blair and his law and order spokesmen. The proportion of Labour voters opposing compulsory identity cards fell from 45% in 1990 to 15% in 2005 as the party changed its stance.
Although the threat of terrorism did not cause the change in public mood,
I haven’t seen the research for myself but I can’t see why the threat of terrorism hasn’t changed views over time.
it was now being used by Labour and Conservative politicians to mobilise support for even tougher measures. The poll found people were less inclined to support civil liberties when asked questions mentioning terrorism.
Oh, so ‘terrorism’ does influence attitudes to liberties?
About 80% said electronic tagging of terrorist suspects was “a price worth paying” to combat terrorism. The same proportion backed home curfews, travel restrictions and detention without charge for more than a week. Less than a quarter of the population said torturing terror suspects would be “a price worth paying” and only 35% would accept a ban on peaceful protests and demonstrations. But the nation is almost equally divided on whether people charged with terrorism-related crime should be denied a jury trial – with 50% finding that acceptable and 45% unacceptable.
Conor Gearty, professor of human rights law at the London School of Economics and joint author of the report’s civil rights chapter, said: “The very mention of something being a counter-terrorism measure makes people more willing to contemplate the giving up of their freedoms. It is as though society is in the process of forgetting why past generations thought these freedoms to be so very important.” …
I’m inclined to agree with Professor Gearty on that.
Many of us haven’t had to fight for our freedoms – the Second World War ended over 60 years ago.
I wonder whether attitudes to civil liberties are different in people who have lived in countries that are much more draconian than ours.
It would be interesting to see the results of the same questions being asked of people who live under regimes we characterise as greatly restrictive of civil liberties.
The director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, put himself at odds with the home secretary and Downing Street last night by denying that Britain is caught up in a “war on terror” and calling for a “culture of legislative restraint” in passing laws to deal with terrorism.
Sir Ken warned of the pernicious risk that a “fear-driven and inappropriate” response to the threat could lead Britain to abandon respect for fair trials and the due process of law. …
“It is critical that we understand that this new form of terrorism carries another more subtle, perhaps equally pernicious, risk. Because it might encourage a fear-driven and inappropriate response. By that I mean it can tempt us to abandon our values. I think it important to understand that this is one of its primary purposes.”
“London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7 2005 were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, ‘soldiers’. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a ‘war on terror’, just as there can be no such thing as a ‘war on drugs’.
“The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement.”
Sir Ken, head of the Crown Prosecution Service, told members of the Criminal Bar Association it should be an article of faith that crimes of terrorism are dealt with by criminal justice and that a “culture of legislative restraint in the area of terrorist crime is central to the existence of an efficient and human rights compatible process”.
He said: “We wouldn’t get far in promoting a civilising culture of respect for rights amongst and between citizens if we set about undermining fair trials in the simple pursuit of greater numbers of inevitably less safe convictions. On the contrary, it is obvious that the process of winning convictions ought to be in keeping with a consensual rule of law and not detached from it. Otherwise we sacrifice fundamental values critical to the maintenance of the rule of law – upon which everything else depends.”
His comments will be seen as a swipe against government legislation allowing the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists without trial, later held incompatible with human rights by the courts, and the replacement law that permits suspects to be placed under control orders instead of being brought to trial. …
Well said, Sir MacDonald.