UK Liberty

Tom Harris MP was sent Nineteen Eighty-Four

Posted in database state, law and order, politicians on liberty, surveillance society by ukliberty on November 3, 2008

(This post is rather long but there are lots of points I want to address.)

How Tom Harris voted on key issues since 2001:

  • Voted strongly againsttransparent Parliamentvotesspeeches
  • Voted a mixture of for and against introducing a smoking banvotesspeeches
  • Voted strongly for introducing ID cardsvotesspeeches
  • Voted moderately for introducing foundation hospitalsvotesspeeches
  • Voted strongly for introducing student top-up feesvotesspeeches
  • Voted very strongly for Labour’s anti-terrorism lawsvotesspeeches
  • Voted very strongly for the Iraq warvotesspeeches
  • Voted very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war. votesspeeches
  • Voted very strongly for replacing Tridentvotesspeeches
  • Voted very strongly for the hunting banvotesspeeches
  • Voted very strongly for equal gay rightsvotesspeeches
  • Voted for stopping climate changevotesspeeches

Read about how the voting record is decided.

He doesn’t understand why he was sent a copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four:

there seem to be an awful lot of people out there – perhaps dozens of them

rather snide, isn’t he?

– who seem to get strangely exercised at the prospect of a “police state”. Except that what they define as a “police state” is a million light years from what Orwell himself described. CCTV cameras in the street? That’s just like Nineteen Eighty-Four, when families were monitored in their own homes, 24 hours a day!

He’s being dishonest about his opponent’s argument and/or he is ignorant of its extent – in short that it isn’t just CCTV that concerns people but also the erosions of our liberties and the growth in surveillance in general.

Can’t use racist terms to vilify people any more? Well, surely that’s thought crime, just like Orwell predicted!

Again, misrepresenting the argument, which is about being wary of government restraints on speech.

What rubbish. As I’ve written here before, this is all paranoid fantasy,

Tom professes to want to engage but has already written off the argument of his opponents – in other words he is dishonest.  And, as he wrote before, he does not understand “exactly why or how our civil liberties are even remotely infringed by our being ‘the most watched society in the world'”, so he’s pretty ignorant, too.

We live in a democracy, and just because those  – including my anonymous benefactor – who get excited about such things are unhappy that Labour is in power, that does not make us anything other than a democracy. And democratically-elected governments govern with the consent of the people. Yes, even this one!

Well, 21% of the people.

While the strange person who sent me my book and others like him might claim that everyone in the UK is utterly consumed with fury over a perceived decline in civil liberties in this country,

In fact, they probably don’t claim that at all.  Again, Tom is misrepresenting the argument.  The reasonable people who care about erosions of our liberties recognise that not everyone cares about them – that’s part of the problem.  Indeed – and particularly in the current clime – people have more pressing things to worry about, such as increases in cost of food for example – and fair enough.  But that doesn’t mean no-one reasonable does or should care about them, does it?

The other part of the problem is that those with power over our liberties – our beloved leaders – largely don’t seem to care about them either.  

After condemnation from pretty much every commenter on his article, Tom wrote another:

Although I disagree with those who say we’re slipping towards a police state (just about everyone who commented on that post), I’m at least aware of the concerns that lead people to have such fears.

Aware but dismissive, to the extent of calling those people paranoid fantasists  – this, by the way, from someone who claims he hopes he isn’t “abusive”, someone who claims that “whenever I’ve left a sarcastic or … sneering remark, it is always in response to someone who has failed to observe the common courtesies and who has made a silly and rude remark or who has been sneering or sarcastic first.” That’s not quite the truth, is it Tom?

Now, I don’t expect that libertarians will look at … any argument in favour of RIPA, and change their minds. But there has clearly been some exaggeration of what RIPA does. Surely no-one can have any objection to the use of these powers to gather evidence against paedophiles?

Of course not, especially if they are terrorist paedophiles!

But let’s put down the dog whistle. (especially because they might catch they wrong people.)

Even the non-paranoid can reasonably object if the costs of a proposal outweigh the benefits.

Disregard for now civil liberties objections – Tom isn’t going to engage with those – and consider the financial costs alone of the Intercept Modernisation Programme, for example, quoted at £12bn (precedent suggests it will cost much more). Do we really think it’s going to save the country £12bn?  Say, by solving £12bn of crime?  Or by saving £12bn worth of lives?  

(Some people might say we shouldn’t or don’t put a price on life, but we in fact do, e.g. when rationing healthcare.)

The gist of most of the comments on the original post is that the primary reason for Labour’s current unpopularity is the civil liberties agenda and the perception that our rights are being diminished. But if that were the case, then that anger has only emerged in the last 14 months; after all, Labour were 10 points ahead in September last year. If my correspondents are as tuned into public opinion as they claim, then not only will Labour lose the next election, but we will end up with fewer MPs than the Liberals. No poll suggests this will happen, just as no poll has corroborated the claim that this issue is to the fore of most voters’ concerns, ahead of, say, the economy or crime.

I agree with Tom here.  As I said above, most people probably aren’t as concerned about civil liberties as they are about the economy or law and order – two of the top five issues at election time.  Civil liberties does not feature in their top-most concerns. But so what?  If we always did what most people wanted, the Labour Government would call a general election!

Besides, people do largely support CCTV in various contexts, but – given a choice – would they rather the money was spent on something else?

Would voters much rather we spent £12bn on something other than the Intercept Modernisation Programme?  Have they even been asked?  What about the £5bn on the ID Cards and National Identity Register?  Were voters asked if they would rather spend £5bn on something else?  No.

What happens is that the Government thinks of something to do, they conduct polls with leading questions, suggest that some 50% of people think we should have, say ID cards, so then they go ahead with the ID card scheme.  They don’t ask the public, “Would you rather £5bn was spent on ID cards or cancer drug research or reducing tax?”

If the Government really cared about what people wanted, rather than advancing its own agenda in such a dishonest way, they would ask those questions.

Also there is the allegation that the “War on Terror” is some kind of cynical manoeuvre by the government which is trying to use it as cover to remove civil liberties.

Again, misunderstanding / misrepresenting the (most reasonable) position: removing civil liberties is not the end aim (although I think they would rather have more control than less) – it is incidental to political expediency.  

The Labour Government does not care whether habeas corpus, for example, exists or not – but abolishing it in relation to people suspected of terrorism is politically expedient, isn’t it?

Allow me to offer my perspective.

I do understand people’s cynicism about anti-terrorist legislation. But I don’t accept that that cynicism is as widespread as my critics suggest. Indeed, I have no doubt that a significant majority of ordinary voters would be entirely comfortable with significantly more “draconian” measures (not exactly how I would describe them) than what has already been proposed and enacted. That does not necessarily mean those members of the public are right, of course, but it’s worth re-stating that fact.

Why is it worth re-stating that fact?  Our politicians should be standing up for liberty in the face of the majority.  But Tom and his colleagues are only interested in doing what is politically expedient.

I wonder if those who oppose the government’s anti-terrorist agenda would care to put themselves in my shoes? I genuinely believe – rightly or wrongly – that Islamism (as opposed to Islam) represents the greatest and deadliest threat to our society. I believe that the aim of the terrorists is not to bring about a reduction in our civil liberties, but rather to kill as many people as possible – the more the better.

How ignorant / dishonest.

They don’t want to kill as many people as possible just for the sake of it – by the Government’s own definition, what terrorists want is to use or threaten to use violence in order to “influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.”

For example, our intelligence services claimed that “Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist-related activity in the UK”. Shehzad Tanweer, one of the 7 July 2005 London bombers, left a recording in which he claimed that “What have you witnessed now is only the beginning of a string of attacks that will continue and become stronger until you pull your forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq. And until you stop your financial and military support to America and Israel.”

Terrorists commit mass murder not for its own sake but to further their objectives. (I am by no means justifying mass murder but outlining their motives.)

As a Member of Parliament, I feel I should place the safety and security of my constituents and fellow citizens above every other consideration.

In other words he disagrees with the principle of proportionality, so he’s quite mad…  but wait, perhaps he isn’t quite telling the truth?  You see, anyone who really placed the “safety and security of his constituents above every other consideration” would certainly propose banning road vehicles, which caused nearly 300,000 casualties in 2007.

You may disagree that the threat exists, in which case you will naturally disagree with the measures I have supported. But if you accept that I believe the threat exists, then you must surely understand that I can do no other than to take steps to combat that threat as I perceive it.

Er no, we can agree the threat exists but disagree on the appropriateness of measures proposed to combat it (which probably ineffectively combat it, if at all).

I accept that there are a lot of people in our country who fear for our liberties, and who predict an Orwellian distopian future. I have no problem with individuals expressing and explaining those views on this blog (although, in answer to one person who commented earlier today: yes, I did moderate one comment to delete a swear word, and I deleted another because it contained an offensive term. No apologies. My rules). But you know something? You are in a tiny minority. The vast majority of your fellow citizens believe we live in a free country, where we are free to express our views, free to demonstrate against the government, free to read others’ opinions in a free press, protected by a robust framework of rights. And they’re right.

That’s the reality of life in Britain today.

Er no, you and they are wrong.  We are not free to express our views – there are a number of laws that restrict speech.  We are not free to demonstrate against the government – indeed Tom Harris voted for the restrictions on demonstrations in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (we fail the Town Square Test and even journalists are intimidated by the police).  We are not free to read others’ opinions.

The majority believe otherwise because they are ignorant – the majority don’t try to express their views, they don’t demonstrate against the government, they don’t try to read things the government has outlawed, and they don’t get themselves into a position where they need that “robust framework of rights” (whatever that means).  

They believe otherwise precisely because they haven’t encountered “the reality of life in Britain today.”

That said, it appears that 79% think we do live in a surveillance society, so…

One other point that was raised in the thread to which I feel I should respond: I have always, and always will, put my country and my constituents before my party. But I wouldn’t still be a member of the Labour Party if I didn’t believe that Labour’s programme and policies represented the best options and remedies for our nation.

But most people don’t believe the Labour Government represents “the best options and remedies for our nation”.  They didn’t believe so in 2005.  So why is it still in charge?  If the Labour Government is so in tune with the nation, why doesn’t it quit?  

UPDATE at 7.40 pmI’m in the process of drafting one final post on this subject, responding to more of the arguments made here today. It will be published at precisely 12 noon tomorrow (Sunday).

And his final word was,

I THINK we’re all going to have to agree to disagree on this one, don’t you think?

Pretty pathetic, isn’t he?

I’d like the public to be asked the following questions:

1. Are we so petrified, have we so lost our common sense, courage and phlegmatic British values that we should install a massive snooping engine so that bureaucrats have intrusive access to every aspect of everybody’s work, creative, cultural, social sexual and religious life?

2. Should we bequeathe to the future an interlocking set of mechanisms of total state control in order to reduce littering and graffiti?

3. Do we seriously think that wasting more billions of pounds on high-risk technology projects start to resolve the human and social sources of conflict in society?

4 Responses

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  1. Martin Cullip said, on November 3, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    That is a work of art, congratulations. It gets grubbier and more scary the more Labour’s interfering is looked into.

    Thanks for the link from the Tom Harris blog, it was a stunning read.

  2. ukliberty said, on November 3, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    Thank you, I appreciate that.

  3. Curtis Poe said, on November 5, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    An excellent rebuttal! Unlike Mr. Harris, you take the time to elaborate on your positions and I really appreciate that. He constantly refused to address these issues directly and that disturbs me.

    I particularly like how you point out his dishonesty in implying that if we agree with the terrorist threat, we have to agree with his approach to it. That was a ridiculous claim for him to make. I can only hope that he gets voted out next election cycle. Whoever replaces him, whether they be liberal or conservative, is fine so long as they care preserving our liberty. I’m quite happy to have a politician I can disagree with but respect.

  4. ukliberty said, on November 5, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    Many thanks Curtis.

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