Civil Liberties

Taking Liberties

The British Library's "Taking Liberties" exhibition opens tomorrow, and will be open until March. It is free, and should be well worth a visit. There is an interactive online tool which examines a lot of the issueshere.

I previously wrote about this exhibition in August.

Combining this with the Royal Academy's Byzantium exhibition could make for a good day out in London.

Now That's British!

"When Gordon Brown called on the British Library to stage an exhibition about Britishness he perhaps envisaged a patriotic celebration of the national identity. " begins the story in The Telegraph. It continues to tell of the new exhibition called 'Taking Liberties' - which is a very British response to such a request from a Prime Minister seeking a publicity tool. It's an exhibition looking at Civil Liberties in the UK, and how they've been slowly but steadily eroded since 1997.

David Davis, the former shadow Home Secretary who recently stepped down from the Parliament to force a by election on the issue of civil liberties, said: "It is an astonishingly good idea but is clearly a snub to the Prime Minister and must be accurately embarrassing for him. Gordon Brown likes to talk about Britishness a lot without understanding that liberty is at the core of Britishness. It is our institutional DNA. Our history and tradition of freedom run longer and deeper than any other country."

(snip)

Iconic objects such as the Magna Carta, the death certificate of Charles I and Cromwell's Oath of Loyalty from 1857 will be on display among less well known items some of which have never been on display before.

The exhibition will open on the 31st October and end on the 1st March 2009. Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it.

The British Library is at St. Pancras - very convenient for tube and rail connections.

Brown and Davis

Gordon Brown recently wrote to David Davis to say this:

Dear David

As you know, Prime Ministers are available once a week at Question Time to debate all the issues of the day, and I was disappointed that you chose to step down as a Member of Parliament in advance of Question Time on Wednesday, 11 June rather than coming to the House to debate with me the issues around the use of CCTV and DNA evidence, and the measures we have taken to protect our national security.

Nevertheless, the leader of your party has the opportunity each week to ask six questions on those issues that caused you to leave his Shadow Cabinet. He has had two such opportunities to date, but he has yet to ask any such question. He has two further opportunities to raise these issues before the 'by-election' on July 10th, and I am sure that if he shares your strong feelings about them, he will not duck those opportunities.

Gordon Brown

David Davis has replied, with a masterful letter:

Dear Gordon,

Thank you for your letter of 26 June. This is the second time you have responded to me directly, since my resignation from the House of Commons in protest at your relentless assault on British liberty.

First, you gave a speech on 17 June at the IPPR, a favoured Labour think-tank, hardly an environment that allows for the vigorous and open debate we so sorely need. Now, you insist that any questions I wish to ask on this vital national issue be raised within the narrow confines of Prime Ministers Questions, where you have developed the novel practice of asking - rather than answering- the questions.

I note from your speech on 17 June that you genuinely believe in the positions you have taken and stand behind the sustained erosion on British liberty, which regrettably means that the country must expect more to come in the future. Equally, it is deeply disturbing how ill-informed you are about the basic effectiveness of your security policies - from 42 days, ID cards and the DNA database, through to the ineffectual deployment of CCTV at immense cost to the taxpayer.

We need a proper national debate on these important matters - not just set piece speeches to carefully choreographed audiences or the weekly one-liners you deploy at PMQs. If you were serious about debating these important issues, you should have put up a candidate or at the very least allowed your Ministers to debate publicly with me. Having cowered from both options, it is a bit rich to snipe from the sidelines in a serious debate that will proceed with or without you. Even at this late stage, I would be only too willing to adjust my schedule to debate you or any Cabinet Minister in public, if you feel able to relax the restrictions currently in place.

Yours sincerely,

David Davis

In short, Brown has said "You lost an opportunity to 'debate', but you should have got more support, nah nah ne nah nah." and Davis is saying "Anytime, Any place, Anywhere - bring it on".

Don't talk to the police!

Via Hackaday.

A very interesting lecture, worth watching. Of course, in the UK the right to silence has gone, and failure to talk answer questions may be seen as incriminating.

You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.

Here's the police officer on the same topic:

Pots and Kettles

A great BBC 'Have Your Say' Comment from John McKay:

"The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has described Mr Davis's move as a 'stunt that has become a farce'."

If I might draw M'Lud's attention  to the case of Pot versus Kettle...?

Well done.

David Davis has been interviewed for the 'Today' programme. Humphreys is interviewing as a politico - Davis is responding on the issues.

"If the Labour party chooses not to defend their own policies on this... they're gonna show that they're ashamed of their own policies... if it comes down to it and they don't run then I will think that's just another piece of cowardice by Gordon Brown.... but there will be a debate, I promise you, there will be a debate

This 'stunt' has now elevated Davis above Boris Johnson as 'Favourite Tory'.

Please direct comments to this post.

Have Your Say on Davis

I've browsed through the most recommended comments at the Beeb. Several pages of comments without one recommended comment (so far) being critical of Davis. (If you haven't seen his speech yet, it's really worth a look). This comment summed it up, quoting one of the rare (less popular) anti-DD posts:

What is the point of posting comments to the BBC when they are biased. I can only see comments from people who agree with David Davis! Typical BBC! ...

J L Graham, Frimley, Surrey.

Didn't you actually consider it might be because the majority of posters actually agree with David Davis????

Josh Rogan, United Kingdom.

The move may well be a stunt, but it's a stunt that'll keep the spotlight on some important issues for quite some time. Well done DD.

Update: The BBC has a roundup of the press today. Unsurprisingly the Murdoch press are quite negative, other press is applauding the reasons for his stance, but are suggesting that it could backfire by causing his party embarrassment. Personally, I'm really pleased that someone is putting this front and centre as an important issue and making the principled case.

Understandably, given that they'd lose, Labour look like they'll refuse to fight the election. Cowards. They probably would lose anyway in that seat, but if they really have the courage of their convictions, let's have the general election which we should have had last year. No? Didn't think so. Cowards.

Please direct any comments to this post.

David Davis Speech

This is a phenomenal speech, which sums up just how  this government has been eating away at our historic libertarian legal system. The speech has been placed on youtube.

There are only two ways this could be more spectacular.

  1. If it were Cameron
  2. If it were someone in a marginal seat.

Yes, this is a stunt, but it's a fine one - and it kicked off with a great speech - one that I hope doesn't get ripped to shreds by the time it's disseminated in the News at Ten and in tomorrow's papers.

Please direct any comments to this post.

Update: The Lib Dems, recognising this is a protest on an issue they wish to support, are not fielding a candidate. This has precedents, they did not field a candidate in the election against the Hamiltons. Quite the right decision - though it does highlight the need for Single Transferable Vote instead of First Past the Post. They have said that in a general election they would fight for this constituency.

David Davis: Man of Principle

David Davis has resigned from the commons to force a by-election in which he'll stand. He will fight the campaign based on his opposition to the 42 days detention without charge and the slow erosion of civil liberties seen under this government.

BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson said it was an extraordinary move which was almost without precedent in British politics.

True, it's an MP taking a stand on principle (cynical, moi?)

Labour MP Denis MacShane said he was sure Mr Davis would win the by-election but added "I think this will be seen as a stunt" which showed the Conservatives were "utterly unfit" for government.

Thus spake a man who is avoiding the argument on the issue.

In his resignation statement, he said he feared 42 days was just the beginning and next "we'll next see 56 days, 70 days, 90 days."

But, he added: "In truth, 42 days is just one - perhaps the most salient example - of the insidious, surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedoms."

He listed the growth of the "database state," government "snooping" ID cards, the erosion of jury trials and other issues.

"This cannot go on. It must be stopped and for that reason today I feel it is incumbent on me to make a stand," said Mr Davis.

"At least my electorate and the nation as a whole will have had the opportunity to debate and consider one of the most fundamental issues of our day - the ever intrusive power of the state into our lives, the loss of privacy, the loss of freedom and the steady attrition undermining the rule of law," he said

Hear, Hear!

Good luck DD - I do hope that it's a landslide (and can't be argued that it's just the core vote of a safe seat).

This could only be more dramatic if it had been Cameron.

Update: The speech is online (it's a great speech).

Related:

  • Iain Dale
  • Labour@Home (who seem be arguing on the party lines, not the issue)
  • It might be a publicity stunt, hopisen, but it's one that we need with this nasty government.
  • e8voice (Davis has balls and they're in the air)

42 Days

The BBC has a list of the Labour MPs who rebelled in the recent vote to allow people to be locked up without the evidence to charge them for 42 days.

  • Diane Abbott
  • Richard Burden
  • Katy Clark
  • Harry Cohen
  • Frank Cook
  • Jeremy Corbyn
  • Jim Cousins
  • Andrew Dismore
  • Frank Dobson
  • David Drew
  • Paul Farrelly
  • Mark Fisher
  • Paul Flynn
  • Neil Gerrard
  • Ian Gibson
  • Roger Godsiff
  • John Grogan
  • Dai Havard
  • Kate Hoey
  • Kelvin Hopkins
  • Glenda Jackson
  • Lynne Jones
  • Peter Kilfoyle
  • Andrew MacKinlay
  • Bob Marshall-Andrews
  • John McDonnell
  • Michael Meacher
  • Julie Morgan
  • Chris Mullin
  • Douglas Naysmith
  • Gordon Prentice
  • Linda Riordan
  • Alan Simpson
  • Emily Thornberry
  • David Winnick
  • Mike Wood

Ann Widdecombe voted for the government bill, as did the DUP.

If I were in a labour held constituency, the only way I'd vote for them is if one of those people were the MP. The reverse goes for Ann Widdecombe (although she is quite popular in her constituency, and I can appreciate that she went out on a limb here as a matter of conscience - she's wrong though).

Six Weeks

So, Brown gets his way to lock people up for six weeks without the evidence to charge them. Still, it's one way to get the kids out of the way for the summer holiday...

The arguments used are pitiful, 'the police tell us they need the extra time, so...'. The police, with the best will in the world, aren't going to argue for a shorter time. They're the ones who get it in the neck if wrong, it's a tough job. It is the job of the lawmaker to balance the interest of the individual against the rest of the public. Do we really want to have a society when someone can be locked up for a month and a half because they are a suspect?

It's worth remembering that a Terror Suspect is just that. A suspect. Not a convict. Suspicion is not evidence.

Surely, it would be much less of a compromise to allow for questioning after a lesser charge?

For a millennia the rule has been that one could not get locked up without evidence and a trial. A six week detention, equivalent to a three month sentence (with good behaviour) can now (at least, assuming the Lords don't throw it out) be served without trial.

Strange, how in this 'free and democratic' country, once again we look to the Lords to safeguard our rights.

We never came anywhere near this even when the IRA made a successful bomb attack which threatened the cabinet and nearly killed the prime minister.

Brown is playing the politics of fear, long may his electoral approval slide.

Demagogue

Sir John Major, writing in the Times, criticises the ID cards scheme as part of a wide-ranging attack on the erosion of civil liberties under the Labour government:

But it is not only the case for 42 days detention that is bogus. So is the case for identity cards. They were to be voluntary. Now it is clear that they will be compulsory. Yet the Government has admitted that such cards would not have stopped the London bombers. Nor will they cut illegal immigration, since asylum-seekers have been obliged to carry ID cards for nearly eight years. Nor will they have any real impact on benefits fraud, as this is typically caused by misrepresentation of financial resources rather than by identity.

The Government has been saying, in a catchy, misleading piece of spin: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” This is a demagogue’s trick. We do have something to fear - the total loss of privacy to an intrusive state with authoritarian tendencies.

This is not a United Kingdom that I recognise and Parliament should not accept it.

Via No2ID.

John Major may not have been a great PM in many people's view, but he makes a damned fine elder statesman.