That’s it, I’m leaving the UK

12Jun08

Except I can’t, because I already did. And I don’t believe the best way to solve problems is to abandon them, anyway. But there are days when I really, truly, wonder what the country is going to look like when I go back in a year or two.

The bill to increase pre-charge detention limits to 42 days has passed the House of Commons. I didn’t manage to watch the debate, but a decent summary can be found here, as well as the full text here.

If you can find a single cogent, overriding argument in favour of the bill in there, you’re a better person than I am. From my perusal, all I can see is every one of the government’s arguments being shot down by MPs opposing the bill. I’m not a huge fan of Diane Abbott, but there can be no denying that her speech during the debate yesterday was an excellent summary of why the bill should not have been passed, and an accurate prediction of why it did.

I’ve said this before, but it think it bears repeating. It should not have been passed, because it was unnecessary. It should not have been passed, because there is evidence that it would be more divisive than cohesive amongst the communities that are most likely to suffer the effects. And it should not have passed because it is an affront to civil liberties. The UK should not be a country where people can be detained for well over a month without being charged or even knowing why they are imprisoned. That simply isn’t how things should work.

Menzies Campbell put it well during the debate:

Once freedoms of the kind that we are debating are removed or even diminished, they are not easily recovered. We should never imagine that what we now take for granted was handed out by benevolent monarchs or by altruistic Governments. They were won. Sometimes they had to be seized physically, and sometimes they could be seized by political or other methods. But they had to be acquired, because the natural acquisitiveness of the Executive means that it takes power to itself as often as it can. If we give the power back, how difficult will it be to restore the freedoms and the personal liberty that we regard as so important

Near the start of the debate, the Home Secretary used the phrase “Trust me”. Jacqui Smith may be trustworthy, but legistlation that relies on the trustworthiness of politicians sets a frightening precedent. Just because she may only ever use the new powers in the event of what could rationally be called a true emergency does not guarantee that all future holders of that position will do the same.

And yet, the bill passed. By nine votes. It passed because arms were twisted, because concessions were promised, because at the last minute a “compensation package” was promised for people detained and eventually released. It passed because Brown and Smith wanted it to pass, wanted it so desperately that they were willing to promise almost anything. They wanted to look ‘tough on terror’. If there was a real, pressing, need for this legislation, there would be real, solid evidence for it. The 28 day limit was set two years ago (at the time a vote to increase it to 90 days failed) and there has been no evidence – not a scrap – that the situation is any different today than it was two years ago. This Bill was purely political.

To quote Abbott again:

…we should not play ducks and drakes with our civil liberties in order to get a few months’ advantage in the opinion polls. We have got here through a process that involved the wrong practical politics and was wrongly motivated.

The Bill has yet to become law. It must first pass the House of Lords. It may fail – some of the most vocal opponents, such as the former attorney general Lord Goldsmith, sit in the Lords. Labour has no majority there. So I find myself in the not-entirely-pleasant situation of hoping that the appointed House sees sense and reverses the decision of the elected one.

Brown was able to claim that the Bill was popular. An opinion poll last week showed 65% support for the increased limits. But, as David Cameron put it:

He’s right, it is popular. But isn’t our job here to do what’s right?

It feels very wrong to be saying this: the Conservative leader has a point.

Contact your MP to express your support or disapproval in how they voted at www.writetothem.com.

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2 Responses to “That’s it, I’m leaving the UK”

  1. This bill is an erosion of the civil liberties of all the people in the UK. If there is enough evidence to warrant a detention, then there should be sufficient evidence to lay charges, if not, then surely the allegations are highly questionable. If I am driving a car that is capable of doing 150mph, does, that mean I intend to drive that fast?

    However, the issue of MP’s being broughto to account, is an important one. I personally believe that MP’s should 1. tell the elctorate which was they intend to vote on manifesto issues before they are elected and 2. MP’s should provide their own ‘mini’ manifesto. Then all constituents should receive a monthly progress report, on how many times our MP attended the House of Commons, any speaches, which way he voted and any motion put forward. This way we will know how our MP’s are representing our interests, they will know that they are being scrutinised and there is a better chance that we shall be able to re-engage the public interest in politics.

  2. 2 sunny

    Honestly, i am not very familiar with UK’s politics. However, i find this very bill to be extremely disturbing. I just searched and found out that it is unlikely to be passed as a law, but the concept itself is unjust and wrong. I really wonder how the police detect the suspects. Will it be based on skin color? religion? ethnicity? Whatever the guideline will be some kind of segregation and discrimination will be unavoidable. I learned that UK already has a law that allows the detention of the suspects for 28 days. What do the police do for the 28 days, and why does it need to be increased to 42 days? I do not find this logical. The world is not like school where some teachers keep the whole class from going home to find the stealer.


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