Friday, 28 November 2008

Our democracy: just or well?

Or just Orwell?

I'm with my blogging comrade Scottish Tory Boy on this. Just as the use of counter-terrorism legislation in the wake of the Icelandic banking collapse was ludicrous, so too the heavy-handed arrest of Tory MP and Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green on charges of "conspiring to commit misconduct in public office" are ridiculous.

Basically the guy is doing his job as an opposition MP. He was arrested for making public information which the government wanted kept hidden away - not for reasons of national security but for political gain. He didn't release into the public domain launch codes for Trident missiles, he made public four pieces of information leaked from the government - two issues regarding illegal immigrants, one a list of "rebel" Labour MPs and one an embarrassing letter from the home secretary suggesting the recession may increase crime levels. None of those matters are of national security issue, and as far as I am aware, none fall under the category of terrorism against the state - therefore use of counter-terrorism legislation is neither warranted nor justified.

One issue that interests me though, is the question of knowledge on the part of the government. My understanding of the counter-terrorism laws - and I could be wrong about this - was that the Home Secretary was to be notified if they were to be used. IF that is the case, then surely Jacqui Smith should have known about it - and should, surely, have passed that information onto Downing Street? The Met Police informed London Mayor Boris Johnson of impending arrest. I find it difficult to believe that someone who holds the highest office of any Tory MP would be told of something of this magnitude but that the Home Secretary was ignorant of it.

Tom Harris, Labour's blogging MP, "shares some the concerns of the public" on the isssue, and concedes the effectiveness of Green as an opposition MP in tracking down information and using it against the government. He suggests that a member of the government probably knew about the arrest beforehand - but if that is the case, why are Government MPs saying otherwise? He has previously rubbished claims that we are living in an Orwellian state. I wonder how much more evidence he needs.

I think this is a worrying development - but, sadly, the natural progression of Labour's anti-terrorism legislation. I didn't think something like this would happen so quickly or to such a high-profile figure, but the evidence is there, should it be required, that the counter-terrorism laws have made it easier for the police not only to run roughshod over civil liberties but to arrest opposition MPs for doing what is basically their job - being critical of the government.

If this is democracy, what the hell are we fighting for?

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