Sunday, March 13, 2005

Who the hell do I vote for now?

Well, after all the ping pong and parliamentary theatrics, it's over. The Prevention of Terrorism Bill became law, without the amendments, with all the evil bits intact. Yes, so there will be a "review" in a year's time. There will be a new Bill. Parliament would be able to repeal it. But these are not concessions. Parliament can repeal any act - including this one, right now. This "concession" is not a concession at all. It should also be obvious enough that, whatever happens in the intervening 12 months, the new bill will be worse still. The control bureaucracy, having got what it wanted, will always demand more powers. And once given, they are always used. You, or I, or any of us, can now be placed under house arrest, denied telecommunications, and forbidden from meeting anyone without the permission of Charles Clarke, on Clarky's "reasonable suspicion". We will not be told why. Although we will be able (after seven days) to challenge this in court, we will not be told the charges or the evidence against us.

How this differs from the good old apartheid practice of the Banning Order is not clear. What is worse, no-one seems to be willing to do anything. Yeah, yeah, thirty-one hours, peers kipping in corridors, blah. But when it was put to the ultimate test, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats caved in. They accepted the "review" flabble, and let go crucial, vital questions like the standard of proof. Why? It was bad enough that at the best possible time to kill this monstrous legislation, in the Commons, with unimpeachable democratic legitimacy, we failed because we couldn't be bothered to turn up. It was worse that, after all the kiddy games with late night debates, we caved. According to the Guardian, Charles Kennedy accepted the "review" and the Tories folded because they were "exposed". According to Richard Allan, the Tories caved and left the Liberals out. After all the peacetime bullshit, the so-called real opposition couldn't hack it. Standing up to the politics of fear? Defending civil liberties? Insufficient, Mr. Kennedy.

Not, though, that the Conservatives came out of it that well. There was nothing to stop them clinging on to their eternal majority in the Lords. Michael Howard must answer the question as to why he and his party were willing to die in the ditch about a pissant squabble like fox-hunting, to knock back successive bills, to go all the way to the Parliament Act, to force a 24-hour sitting on the Disqualifications Bill in defence of the rights of the perjurer Jeffrey Archer to continue his political career, but got cold feet over the introduction of unrestricted detention without trial on the basis of secret denunciation. Is there not a problem of priorities here?

Meanwhile in reality, the men released from Belmarsh Prison are beginning their new-style modernised public-private internment partnership in a variety of cheerless lodgings (at one, the police had to break a window to let the chap in before boarding it up) and in one case, a psychiatric ward. It remains unclear how they will eat, as they may not leave, cannot work, and presumably cannot sign on for state benefits. (Unless, of course, starvation as punishment is part of The Project of a Progressive Century.) I await the first source close to Downing Street to give Rebekah Wade the list of addresses, through the usual channels - I reckon about a week before the election. I shudder at the thought that no serious political party was willing, in the final analysis, to oppose this dread Bill. I am faced with the prospect of resigning from the Lib Dems before ever managing to attend my party branch meeting.

But at least we're safe from the appalling prospect that the chap with no arms will race up the aisle of a 747 in his wheelchair, bash down the cockpit door (with no arms), overpower the crew (did I mention he's not got arms?) and crash the jet on Westminster with his toes.

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