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Charles Clarke accuses British media of “poison” in coverage of attacks on civil liberties

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:21 pm on 26 April, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance, political liberties, democracy and the rule of law.
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Britain’s Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, recently wrote an article for the Guardian (entitled “Lazy and deceitful”) which can be found at the Guardian website.

In the article, Clarke claims that “a pernicious and even dangerous poison is now slipping into some parts of this media view of the world” and that “In the absence of many of the genuinely dangerous totalitarian regimes, the media has rhetorically transferred to existing democracies, particularly the US and the UK, the characteristics of those dictatorships.”

He castigates various commentators for using terms such as “creeping authoritarianism”, “police state”, “fascist”, “holocaust”, “gulag” and “apartheid”.

However, in the Guardian article, he does not provide any examples of the usages of these words that offends him.

As far as I’m concerned, the government is guilty of creeping authoritarianism, has laid down all the legislative apparatus required for a police state and has pursued policies more commonly associated with fascist states than with democracies. Britain has not become the sort of society we saw in the USSR, Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italy, but the government has enacted highly authoritarian laws that curb people’s liberties and expand the power of the state.

Even a cursory glance at the “criminal justice” and “anti terrorism” legislation this government has brought in or proposed will reveal numerous examples, such as lowering or reversing the burden of proof, allowing people suspected of crime to be punished without being convicted of an offence, enabling numerous public officials to snoop on people’s lives without independent oversight or accountability and attempts to sideline Parliament and to enable rule by decree.

The other terms I grant do not apply to the behaviour of the current government, or to that of the US.

I have seen someone compare the recently acquired powers of house arrest to those used against people in the apartheid era (see this article), not to demonstrate that Britain is under apartheid but to demonstrate that Britain has acquired deeply draconian laws under this government and to demonstrate how damaging house arrest can be for those placed under it. This is a perfectly valid point to make.

He then writes:

“Writing on these pages, Jenni Russell claimed that “Tony Blair’s administration is removing the safeguards that protect all of us from the whims of a government and the intrusion of a powerful state. It is engaged in a ferocious power-grab.” These are ridiculous assertions, unsupported by any hint of understanding of the balance of powers that
exist in our society.'’

The assertions are not ridiculous, they are a statement of fact. This government has removed longstanding safeguards that protect us from being wrongfully imprisoned or punished.

To take some brief examples, under legislation this government has introduced you can have your assets seized (Proceeds of Crime Act 2002), or be placed under curfew or under restrictions on who you can meet or under house arrest (Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005) using control orders, or be banned from travelling to football matches (Football (Disorder) Act 2000), all without being convicted of an offence.

In the case of control orders, you won’t even get to see the evidence or accusations made against you or who made them.

By removing the requirement to proof beyond resonable doubt that person has committed a crime, and in some cases by even reversing the presumption of innocence, this government has made everyone more vulnerable to false accusations, whether made maliciously or by mistake. The government has thus seriously weakened the ability of the innocent accused to fight false accusations.

In doing so the government has also undermined the reliability of the criminal justice system — by lowering the burden of proof they make it more likely that the wrong people will be targetted and punished in the fight against crime and terrorism, leaving the real culprits free to continue their activities.

Regarding the claim of a power grab, this is fact. Not only does the weakening of the safeguards mentioned above the state more power over the individual by making it easier to jail or otherwise punish him, but the government has been engaging in a power grab in other ways too.

Jenni Russell mentions the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill which, in its current form, would give ministers the power, via parliamentary orders, to alter any legislation they choose and any laws they choose and to delegate legislative power to any people they choose, whilst limiting Parliament’s ability to scrutinise such orders to the extent that at best each House only gets one vote on the orders, at most 60 days to consider the orders and cannot amend the orders. The government can even nominate a procedure be used whereby the order becomes law unless an opposing vote is organised in each House — i.e. without a vote being necessary.

This would give the executive an unprecedented level of power in Britain.

There is also the Civil Contingencies Act which gives cabinet ministers all the authority of an Act of Parliament and the Royal Prerogative — i.e. absolute power under Britain’s system of government — subject to only very minimal restrictions and a need to renew emergency powers every 7 days unless Parliament gives approval for longer timescales. The previous Emergency Powers Act was more limited than this and required Royal consent.

Then there is the Identity Cards Act 2006 which will give the state unprecedented powers to gather information about people’s lives and track them, whilst making it possible for someone to be effectively made a non-citizen by simply deleting, corrupting or flagging their NIR entries or (on a temporary basis) by cancelling their ID cards though the government is obligated to provide a new one. This scheme will give everyone in officialdom ample opportunity to boss people around and interfere in their lives.

Clarke baldly asserts that it is ridiculous to claim the government is engaged in a power grab or that they have undermined the safeguards that protect individuals from the abuses of state power without even attempting to address the points raised by Jenni Russell, let alone anyone else. It is Clarke who is being lazy and deceitful, not those who are alarmed by the destruction of the rule of law and the accumulation of power by the British state. Much of the offending legislation is documented elsewhere on the Magna Carta Plus site.

1 Comment

  1. Deportation Island: New Reality TV Show in the United Kingdom (Clarke and Blair Production)

    Prime Minister Tony Blair announced today his cabinet would be launching a new reality television show. The reality TV show entitled “Deportation Island” will mark the Prime Minister’s directorial debut and represents a direct public relations offensive to combat sliding approval ratings. A poll conducted by The Telegraph places the Prime Minister’s personal approval rating at just 36%.

    Executive producers of “Deportation Island” include Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Lord Levy. Clarke was asked to become executive director following his extensive experience handling deportation issues. Only yesterday Clarke admitted that 1,023 foreign prisoners had been freed without being considered for deportation.

    “Deportation Island” will be an unscripted quest series that will feature teams of foreign and British convicted criminals who will be provided with a series tasks, aimed at getting them deported from the United Kingdom.

    For more on this comment visit

    Comment by The Dark One — 27 April, 2006 @ 12:21 pm | Edit This

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