Melanie Phillips with some ill-informed, incoherent rubbish and derogatory comments about people who support civil liberties (“the chattering classes“).
Phillips holds the “civil liberties lobby” to blame for “Big Brother Britain”. She mentions the Convention of Modern Liberty bringing together people from across the political spectrum, but “Like all bandwagons, however, this one needs a beady eye cast over it, not least because of its occasional note of hysteria … Its claim that Britain is turning into a police state is clearly over the top”.
It is perhaps worth noting that there is not one mention of “police state” on the Convention’s site.
There is the well-worn claim of “alarmism” over CCTV and DNA profiling, and how this pays “scant regard to their usefulness in catching criminals”. This is odd because it seems to me the “civil liberties lobby” in fact appreciates that CCTV and DNA profiling helps catch criminals. Indeed what I want is better CCTV and DNA profiling, and less inappropriate usage – and it isn’t made better by putting CCTV everywhere and putting everyone on the DNA database. There are principled and pragmatic reasons not to do so.
Phillips does recognise that we should “be concerned about some of the ways in which freedom is being compromised”, giving the examples of local councils and other public bodies using RIPA inappropriately, and she seems to object to CCTV watching us buy alcohol in pubs and supermarkets.
She also seems to object to the secret inquests provisions in the Coroners and Justice Bill, and the Intercept Modernisation Programme.
Phillips says, “These are very real concerns.”
But of course these aren’t, in her view, the fault of Parliamentarians passing objectionable legislation and the willingness of others to use and abuse the legislation. No, it’s the “fault of the civil liberties lobby” for “this state of affairs”.
Under [human rights] law, judges have been handed the power to balance rights against each other. And time and again, they have come down in favour of the rights of terror suspects, illegal immigrants and common criminals against the rights of indigenous, law-abiding people. So it’s a bit rich for the liberty campaigners to claim that fear of terrorism has eroded human rights.
I’m not sure who has claimed that fear of terrorism has eroded human rights. As far as I can see we have been blaming the Labour Government and its supporters for the last eleven years. Now, they may have been motivated by fear of terrorism, or stoked the fear of terrorism in the public and thereby seen public support for erosions and infringements. But ultimately it is Parliamentarians who voted aye who are to blame.
This bit is weird:
But the human rights law these campaigners foisted upon us has taken a judicial axe to that principle by making judges the arbiters of our freedoms.
In doing so, they deliberately transferred power from Parliament to the courts. And the inevitable consequence of that has been that MPs lost power to the judges. This weakening of Parliament has enabled the Labour Government to use Parliamentary procedure to short-circuit debate and force through legislation without proper scrutiny.
Parliament isn’t at all weak. The problem with Parliament at the moment is that there are too many Parliamentarians willing to vote aye to objectionable proposals, and a Government that keeps churning out legislation but not allowing (again via its supporters) enough time to properly scrutinise it. Indeed it is quite extraordinary that legislation can get to the statute book without those who voted on it being required to actually read it first.
This has nothing to do with civil liberties campaigners or judges at all.
A more robust Parliament would have prevented the Government passing those laws which threaten our fundamental freedoms. But over the past few years, Westminster has had the stuffing knocked out of it by a series of measures, including human rights law, whose purpose was to destroy this country’s constitutional settlement and powers of democratic self-government.
Civil liberties campaigners and judges have no power to prevent Parliamentarians from passing objectionable laws.
The media is hot with the notion of a special Act of Parliament to extinguish his contractual rights.
Unless it has the effect of persuading the man voluntarily to give up the money, this is all dangerous sabre-rattling. Ministers cannot direct RBS to break this contract. The Government is obliged to uphold the law, including the law of contract, and the RBS board would be perfectly entitled to refuse to comply. Even if the bank were to withhold the money, its former chief executive could sue and would win. Contracts are binding on the parties to them, yes, even if you are Her Majesty’s Government. How inconvenient.
Legislating wouldn’t work either. The European Convention on Human Rights says that a state cannot expropriate private property without paying adequate compensation. Even if a British court were to enforce this special legislation, Sir Fred would win in Strasbourg.
Unfortunately, the present Government has form. In 2001, the Government’s No1 hate figure then was Railtrack …
Worth reading the whole article.
There are a number of ad hominem attacks.
He reiterates his well-worn claims that because the asylum seekers of his constituency tell him they preferred to come to the UK over anywhere else, and because he has no “recent correspondence” from constituents relating “to fears about the creation in Britain of a “police state” or a “surveillance society”", it is “daft” for anyone else to be concerned about such issues.
He claims that “since 1997, we have done more to extend freedoms than any government before”. On the one hand, perhaps they have – but on the other, they have surely eroded them too. More accurately, they have extended some ’freedoms’ and eroded others. The proof is in the legislation on the statute book. He claims his opponents ”assume the loss of a golden age of liberty”. Well, I certainly don’t. Indeed think I’ve written here that we never had one. But that is not to say that things today are great, is it?
He asserts that the Human Rights Act is an “overriding and systematic protection for people’s rights and liberties”. This is a ridiculous falsehood – it does not override the will of Parliament, which retains ultimate sovereignty. If for example primary legislation is found to be contrary to the Human Rights Act our courts may only make a declaration of incompatibility. And by then it is too late for that person to the extent that his rights and liberties have already been interfered with – and may have been interfered with (such as being indefinitely detained without trial) for months if not years, bearing in mind how long it takes for these issues to go through our legal system. Even adverse judgements handed down from the European Court of Human Rights may not promptly be responded to if they are not in accordance with political will.
He again claims the HRA implies “obligations in the way we exercise our rights” but neglects to provide explicit specifics.
Even the convention rights enshrined in the HRA are not absolute. The right to liberty itself can be taken away in a variety of circumstances – not least if you are convicted of a serious crime. This gets to the heart of the debate about modern liberty. Can individual rights ever be restricted in the name of the common good? I believe there are times when it is necessary to impose restrictions on some aspects of individual liberty in the interests of wider security. That is one of the central tasks of government.
And thus the leap of logic is made from a reasonable restriction on liberty in the case of a convicted criminal to restrictions on the liberties of everyone. This is the sort of person in Government. Be concerned – be very concerned.
He mentions that after all the criticism they have received that they will rethink the data sharing provisions in the Coroner’s and Justice Bill. Well great, but the provisions shouldn’t have been drafted in the first place – they are obviously a Bad Thing. Also, they shouldn’t be tagged on to the end of a very long bill, in itself a supermarket trolley of provisions, that is otherwise wholly irrelevant to personal data.
And there is of course an ultimate check on executive power – democracy. Talk of Britain sliding into a police state is daft scaremongering, but even were it true there is a mechanism to prevent it – democratic elections. People have the power to vote out administrations which they believe are heavyhanded.
Well that’s great in theory, but when only a fifth of the population voted for the party that formed the Government, one surely has to wonder how great our democracy actually is.
When people come to assess the choices available at the next election, I will stand proudly on Labour’s record, from the Lawrence inquiry, which reported 10 years ago this week, progressive legislation on race and gender, to devolution, the Human Rights Act, Freedom of Information and much more, and be ready to be judged on it. I hope that in the final reckoning even some of our harshest critics will concede that this Labour government has done more than any before it to extend liberties and to constrain government.
Well, the first comment on the article says it all for me:
An end to peaceful protest within a mile of Parliament.
Over 60 pieces of personal information before you can travel.
Phone call monitoring.
The politicization of the police.
One-quarter of all the CCTV in the world.
Racist ID cards for non-EU nationals.
And you have the bare-faced cheek to say that you have extended liberties? You are a liar, Jack, and not a very good one. We want our freedom, and our country, back.