Opinion: Taking Liberties

Try as hard as I might, I can never manage to get myself worked up over the whole civil liberties agenda. So, following Sir Ming’s recommendation, I took myself off to a viewing of Taking Liberties at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse.

Naturally I approached the cinema with great caution, checking that no-one was on my tail, and paid cash to ensure that I could not be traced in any way. What I settled down to watch turned out to comprise two quite distinct narratives rolled into one – an indictment of our disastrous misadventures in the Middle East, mixed into a bubbling cauldron of pure libertarian paranoia.

The film, directed by Chris Atkins, begins with three coach loads of activists on their way to the American military base at Fairford Gloucestershire to protest about something or other. En route, the coaches are pulled over by “over a hundred police in riot gear,” though from the footage it looked like two dozen police men and women at the most. And they were certainly not in riot gear, only fluorescent jackets. Clearly we were going to be taking liberties in more ways than one over the next 100 minutes. Anyway, according to the film, the police searched the coaches for two hours before turning them back to London under police escort, with everyone on board desperate for a pee.

A short history lesson on Nazi Germany follows, and then it’s straight off to Tony Blair’s 1997 election victory, not that we’re meant to draw any connection between Blair and the Nazis you understand. So the new government starts enacting various laws, then 9/11 happens, so we go to war, then 7/7 happens, so we go completely mental with anti-terrorism legislation which in the process manages to strip us of all our basic rights and freedoms – or so they say. The first of these to bite the dust is our right to freedom of speech which has been dramatically curtailed under Blair, so I’ve no idea how you’re going to be able to read this article, or for that matter how it was that I was sitting in a cinema the other day witnessing this outspoken polemic against New Labour. Doesn’t the very existence of Taking Liberties undermine its entire message?

Two words should suffice to dispel such notions: “Walter Wolfgang,” the octogenarian refugee from Nazi Germany, who joined the Labour party before Tony Blair was born, and who was ejected from the 2005 Labour conference for shouting the word, “nonsense.” Later, Walter attempted to return to the conference venue, but then found himself detained under the Terrorism Act. So there you have it: dissent was ruthlessly quashed, and Walter’s lone voice was silenced by the hired heavies of the party inner circle. The only slight flaw with this depiction is the fact that Walter immediately became the guy everyone wanted to talk to, and that a year later he found himself elected to Labour’s National Executive Committee, where he gets to bend the ear of the Prime Minister.

Next up, we meet Milan Rai and Maya Evans, a couple of peace activists who wished to protest against the Iraq war by reading out the names of casualties at the Cenotaph in London. However, since 2005 and the introduction of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA), permission is now required in advance to mount any protest within a one kilometre zone around Parliament Square. So they sent off for the forms, but when it came to the point of filling them in they somehow felt violated to the very core of their being, and so they merely notified the police of their intentions without asking for permission as such. This technically placed them in breach of the law so, strange to tell, when it came to the day of the protest they were duly arrested. Maya and Milan were fined but are refusing to pay, so they will probably be spending some time in prison. Idiots.

In part, the SOCPA legislation was enacted specifically to deal with another determined peacenik, Brian Haw, who has been demonstrating round the clock in Parliament Square since 2001. By all accounts, his one-man demonstration comprising a vast array of placards and banners was a complete eyesore, and his continuous use of a megaphone was having a similarly unpleasant effect upon the ear. Amusingly however, SOCPA failed to deal with Brian at the first attempt because a court ruled that the onset of his demonstration predated the new legislation, from which he was therefore exempt. But eventually, after a few more legal rulings, his daily pantomime was mercifully restricted to a relatively small patch following a police raid reported to cost £27,754. They should send him the bill.

Here’s what I don’t get: I am totally opposed to the Iraq war, but I recognise that the Labour government was elected with a substantial majority in 2001, and obtained a vote in parliament in favour of the war with another big majority which included most of the Conservative members. So where’s the logic here? That despite carrying the clearest of mandates, the war should be halted immediately because there’s some guy outside wearing a silly hat with badges on it? When you stop to think about it, there’s a certain arrogance to this protesting and demonstrating malarkey. Don’t listen to the electorate; listen to me! Brian actually stood as a parliamentary candidate in 2005, obtaining an impressive 0.8% of the vote. The people have spoken. If he truly believes in democracy, then perhaps he should give up now.

After a good hour of this ferocious tilting at windmills, we are at last given something to consider which might actually be worth fretting over. Mouloud Sihali, an Algerian refugee, spent two and a half years in Belmarsh prison prior to standing trial for the now infamous “ricin plot.” He was eventually acquitted on a legal technicality, namely that nobody ever managed to find any ricin. But a mere two months later, Mouloud had his door kicked down again, and this time was placed under house arrest for no very apparent reason. Today, he is tagged, restricted to a tiny area of London, and must report to a police station twice a day – a situation he describes as being worse than prison. Should it all get too much for him, he is free to return to Algeria at any time, where he would face certain imprisonment for being a terrorist suspect.

And finally, we get on to the really bad stuff: the “anomaly” of Guantanamo Bay, by any measure a badge of shame for America and, by virtue of our cringing acquiescence, for Britain too. Then there’s the truly diabolical “extraordinary renditions programme,” the process by which you kidnap someone before flying them off to some hellhole where you hand them over to the locals with a list of questions. In due course, they return the suspects with a list of answers. Best not to enquire how they were obtained. If, as has been alleged, CIA rendition flights have been refuelling at British airports, then a sticky end might yet await Tony Blair. In the words of Philippe Sands QC: “If evidence emerges to show that the PM knew, or should have known, that this type of activity was going on, then he is open to the possibility of criminal charge for complicity in torture.” Well there’s no harm in dreaming.

So all in all, some deeply troubling material is presented towards the end of the film, unfortunately preceded by a series of pretty frivolous examples of how we are supposed to be losing all of our “hard won freedoms.” Here’s my executive summary. Things worth worrying about: Iraq & Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition, our dubious entanglement with the Saudi regime. Things not worth worrying about: left-wing vegetarian do-gooders on pointless demonstrations who positively want to get arrested so they can play a starring role in a documentary on civil liberties. It’s a shame that to some extent the latter is allowed to obscure the former. Ultimately, a film which purports to reveal how the government is whipping up fear over terrorism, is itself whipping up fear of an ever encroaching authoritarian state.

As a final piece of foolishness, Taking Liberties plays out to the Jarvis Cocker song, C***s are Still Running the World. Very subtle. Well here’s the thing: if c***s really are running the world, then we put them there. We are not living in a police state, or anything approaching one for that matter. We live in a democracy, which means quite simply that we get the government we deserve every single time. If, like me, you believe that New Labour is up to its neck in blood, and that the Conservatives have essentially been complicit throughout, then the solution is really very simple. Don’t go on a protest march which will achieve nothing save to waste police time. Just vote Liberal Democrat. That’s it! And maybe blog a bit on the side.

One last anecdote. After the screening, I retraced my steps to the car park, once again taking great care to see that I was not being followed. When I arrived, I started to breathe a little easier, but then what I saw made my blood run cold. Two sinister looking men, probably secret services, were loitering around the car, clearly waiting for me to show up. For a brief moment I considered running for my life, the only thing preventing me being the knowledge that I can’t actually run. So I turned to face my assailants who, as it happens, turned out to be a couple of car park attendants. Still, you can’t be too paranoid these days.

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  • Geoffrey Payne 22nd Jun '07 - 11:55pm

    Hi Laurence,
    Interesting article!
    To answer your points about the Iraq war;
    1/ The majority of the Labour government, and for that matter the size of the Tory group is inflated by our fraudelent electoral system and
    2/ The house was persuaded to support the war on the basis of lies by the Blair administration.

    So this was not a good example of how a democracy should work.

  • The only electoral system in the world that returns comfortable majorities in Parliament off a mere third of the vote is the Westminster first past the post style model. The American system mitigates this significantly with the President, on whom everyone votes, but the overwhelming majority of British (and Canadian and Australian) MPs occupy their seats despite a majority of their constituents voting against them. So no, I can’t possibly agree with your assertion that we don’t live in a fraudulent electoral system. Whether it’s French style runoffs, or Dutch style PR, all European electoral methods are superior to our own. Knowing this before we start the campaign doesn’t change that fact.

    Also, simply because other countries are worse doesn’t mean that everything’s hunky dory. The most important principle in western justice is innocent until proven guilty. So if a person was locked up for two years before any trial, and then not convicted because of a lack of evidence he’d done anything wrong, we should be up in arms at the idea that instead of receiving substantial compensation, he suffer huge curtailments on freedom of movement, and have to report to police daily.

    Equally, if we do live in a free society, then the right to protest must be sacrosanct. It doesn’t matter if the protestors are 90% of the population, or one nutter with a hat, or two people with a list of names at a war memorial. They have a moral right to be heard, and no government which respects its citizens would dare curtail that purely to avoid embarassment in the way this government has. How easy it is to gain ‘permission’ is irrelevent – the principle of having to apply for it is obscene.

  • Hywel Morgan 23rd Jun '07 - 10:39am

    It read like an article written by someone who has a hazy grasp of liberalism to me!

    The civil liberties agenda is at the heart of being a liberal. That is how you get protection from conformity in particular.

    Brian Haw may be a lone nutter in a hat. But if you start defining people’s right to protest by the size of their organisation you start down a very dangerous slope. The suffragettes and civil rights movements would both have had such powers used against them.

    The point about Brian Haw’s protest was that it was, pre SOCA, legal. And held to be so in the courts.

    Larry Flynt explained why he took a case to the US supreme court on the grounds that “if the 1st amendment protects me it protects everyone else. Because I’m the worst there is”

    That’s the principle we need to apply to defending civil liberties. If there are powers used against Brian Haw, Arms Trade protestors, the Climate Camp or Hizb ut Tahrir then one day they may get used against you when you want to protest.

  • It’s pretty bizarre to see an article on a website called `Liberal Democratic Voice’ that sneers to this extent about civil liberties, but there you go.

    The point about protests and activism is not merely that they can change policy and opinions (though they can, see the Poll Tax, the US civil rights struggle etc) but that they are the very stuff that democracy and liberalism *is*. The discussion, debate and advocacy that people engage in, whether it be on blogs, in the pub with their mates or marching down the street, is how we get our opinions heard, and how we hear the opinions of others who aren’t politicians, journalists or other elites with disproportionate access to mass communication.

    It’s easy to sneer at Brian Haw et al, but the clear policy of the Labour government is to discourage protest, leaving only the hardcore who are willing to endure bureaucratic hassle and the risk of arrest to get their message out. That these people often have fringe political beliefs is gravy, making it easier for the government to marginalise them, and portray all opposition to their policies as out of the “mainstream”.

  • Hi Laurence. You stated in comment 2, “No, the present system is quite reasonably fair. Everyone knows the rules in advance.”

    On that logic, Zimbabwe has very fair elections. The MDC knows that its activists will get beaten and its votes stolen. It knows that it will be lied about in the media. And it knows that Mugabe’s cronies will stuff ballot boxes.

    According to your yardstick, that is the epitomy of fairness because everyone knows in advance that is what will happen. So, naughty Mr Tsvangirai should be reprimanded for complaining about Zimbabwe’s very fair system.

  • Laurence, who also wrote, “As for Blair’s lies, two questions follow: How was it that Liberal Democrats managed to see through them, when nobody else did?”

    We didn’t oppose the war on this basis. We opposed the war because it did not have UN support, and there was plenty of scope for the UN to continue its inspections.

  • “Yes but how many people didn’t go on the anti-war march?”

    Good God. Laurence, did you actually write that? Can I ask you how many people didn’t vote for the Labour party at the last election – but ended up with a Labour majority in the Commons? Yet you think our electoral system is a sublime work of perfection.

    “And did the march actually stop the war? No. It was pointless.”

    Jesus wept. So, people should only protest if they know in advance that their protest will change policy. How would that work then?

  • “If the rules were different, the percentages would be different.”

    Yes, they would. As independent polling and research shows, where people believe that if they vote LibDem they get LibDem our vote share grows.

    If we did have a FAIR voting system then we would have many more seats. Simple as.

    P.S. Sorry for not adding my name first time.

  • Completely bizarre to see such a review on a liberal website.

    I thought the film was an excellent exposition of the destruction of freedom by Blair. And it didnt have the hysterical sort of edge that e.g. Michael Moore’s films have.

    The essential point of the movie – act now before it’s too late – is actually quite well put. The final credits quoting Jefferson saying “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” fits beautifully with some of the footage of the so-called “vegetarian do-gooders”. Some puffed up bureaucrat clearly getting an enormous hard-on by forcing pieces of paper into the hands of demonstartors is contrasted with a copper’s fury when a demonstrator turns the tables. Wonderful stuff.

    The follow-up arguments by Laurence on the electoral system really don’t stand any form of serious cross-examination. “Knowing the rules in advance” is absolutely no form of legitimacy. An electoral system in which the winning party is the one whose number of votes most closely approximates to a prime number might be one that you would still decide to compete in, but the fact of your competition doesn’t imply you consent to or approve of the rules.

  • Claire Williams 23rd Jun '07 - 10:53pm

    Is this the only site in the LD blogosphere that allows trolls to post up fully fledged articles? 🙄

  • Laurence, in response to me writing, “Jesus wept”, you wrote, “Please don’t take the Lord’s name in vain”.

    Actually, Laurence, I’ll do what the Hell I like… and that’s liberalism!

  • Laurence,

    Your words on the electoral system were “the present system is quite reasonably fair.”

    I don’t think people should be bothered about getting hot under the collar by a rather lame attempt by you or this website to generate controvesy.

    Ill thought-out hyberbole won’t generate interest in this website or for liberalism more generally. I only bother to post this as I’ve commented in the discussion so far. But as intellectual rigour goes….oh dear…

    Deeply sad behaviour from both the author and the commissioner of this puerile review.

    What next?

    LDV commission an article on “Did 6 million Jews really die?”.

    A liberal website that finally manages to be so useless that it isn’t even worth ignoring.


  • “Unlike Baroness Williams who declared recently that it was a mistake to honour Salman Rushdie because of the offence he has given Muslims. I couldn’t believe it!”

    At last, something we agree on. Give him a peerage to prove how much we believe in freedom of expression.

  • Hywel Morgan 24th Jun '07 - 9:43pm

    “What next? LDV commission an article on…”

    LDV may not have commissioned it but chose to publish it.

  • Lib Dem member 24th Jun '07 - 10:36pm

    With your enthusiasm for writing at great length on so many different topics, I had thought you must be a great expert Laurence. But the more I read, the more I doubt you know very much about anything really.

    The more you wrote your pieces and comments about religion the less and less it seemed like you know (such as the obviously inaccurate claims that all religions claim they are the only source of knowledge).

    You seem to be doing it again on PR. There have been European elections run under both PR and under First Past the Post. If you really wanted to assemble a serious case (or if you had some real thought on the topic to share) you would compare those to each other – and you would see how, regardless of election system, the party does worse in European elections.

    Rather takes away the prop from your argument that the performace in the last European elections was due to them being PR doesn’t it?

    By the way, given your enthusiasm for commenting with greater certainty on how to win elections, can you share with the rest of us your experience at running or taking part in any election victories?

  • Tony Williams 25th Jun '07 - 6:59am

    >> I’m feeling a little beleaguered here!
    Have you stopped to wonder why that might be? 😉

  • This post was originally about Laurence’s reaction to a rather polemical film about the erosion of civil liberties in Britain. For a more rigorously argued case it is worth getting hold of a report, ‘The Right to Protest under UK Law: a Civil Liberty in Decline?’ from http://www.peacerights.org. One of the conclusions of this report is that ‘There is a clear impression therefore that political dissent in this country is being slowly and subtly stifled’.

  • For feck sakes, when even the LibDems won’t stand up for LIBERTY and DEMOCRACY, then things have come to a pretty pass. I saw the film, and it’s central arguments were and are all absolutely true. If we don’t defend our liberties, Nu-Labour will take them, as that film aptly demonstrated.

  • The right to protest is not a gratuitous waste of police time.

  • OK time for a reality check. In 1997 there was a sniff of PR as no one – especially NuLab – thought that any one party would have a significant majority. In other words, PR was being talked about by NuLab when they thought that they would ‘suffer’ in the polls. As it happens, the FPTP system allowed NuLab to have an overwhelming majority (63% of seats) based on 43% of votes cast. Turnout 71%. In other words 30% of POSITIVE NuLab voters. This immediately banished PR to the long grass where it remains to this day.

    IF the LibDems are to fundementally change the system, then they have to win more seats under the current system. There is no other way, and no one will ‘gift’ the LD’s a free ride.

    I have not yet seen Taking Liberties, maybe I never will, it does seem to have mixed reviews, and has no new message to give. Pilger’s films may be a better place to start. However, there IS a point that the LibDems really need to start pushing clearly and emphatically.

    Liberty needs protecting, but with it comes responsibilities.
    Government is the Servant of the people.
    The interference of central government should be diminished.
    Democracy is by its nature ‘flawed’. It can not meet everyone’s personal agendas all the time. So there needs to be an acceptance that sometimes, someonelse’s liberty, is your restriction. The challenge is where to draw that line.
    Drop the ID Cards DataBase. I carry an ID Card where I work at the moment – former Yugoslavia – that is NOT the issue, the database is.

    The LD’s also need a leader that can be accepoted as a potential PM. The current crop do not appear up to it. Their disadvantage is that the leadership issue is critical to their national success, much more so that either NuLab or NuCon. Without a leader with strong appeal, they will struggle, particularly as the PR spin of NuCon will draw many votes away.

  • You really love having the last word, innit? If the LibDems aren’t against ID cards and for the robust defence of our civil liberties, what are you for? Yellow ties? Moaning about PR?

  • **What, not even when Mark Thomas assembles a bunch of his dreary mates to pack out a London police station with one of his spastic “mass lone demonstrations”? I think you’ll find that is a gratuitous waste of police time in fact.**

    I think, Laurence, that what is causing the waste of police time in that example is the stupid law forcing them to arrest people who are doing nothing wrong.

  • An untintelligent article by someone taking easy “paranoid” sarcasm, and deliberately missing the point on each and every occasion. Very poor.

  • Hywel Morgan 13th Jul '07 - 6:23pm

    The police put the “cost” of raiding Brian Haw’s demo at £111,000

    Could the money have been better spent securing the two (and only two!) rape crisis centres in London? Probably given that this was a lawful demonstration until SOCA

    (In reality of course this a purely book-keeping cost so a slightly harsh comparision. I don’t though think it needed 78 officers over 428 officer shifts to co-ordinate an operation against one man with no record of violence!)

  • Hywel Morgan 12th Aug '07 - 10:04pm

    I’m sure I’m just being paranoid worrying when the police say things like this of course:

    “Should individuals or small groups seek to take action outside of lawful protest they will be dealt with robustly using terrorism powers. This is because the presence of large numbers of protesters at or near the airport will reduce our ability to proactively counter the terrorist act [threat],” the document (police plans for handling the climate camp) says.

  • Mike Falchikov 13th Aug '07 - 12:42am

    In all the discussions about PR I wish you guys in England would remember that we’ve just had PR/STV local elections in Scotland and they didn’t do us nearly as much good as some optimists expected. The inestimable value of those elections was, of course, that Labour’s hegemony was severely, perhaps terminally damaged, but Lib Dems did not advance as much we hoped, either in our strongholds, or in “black hole areas”. the shining exception being Edinburgh, where we advanced from 2nd to lead party.

  • I have just been sent the following account by someone who recently handed out leaflets in Liverpool City Centre advertising a meeting organised by the 9/11 Truth Movement.

    “Here’s what happened to me on Tuesday 3rd July2007 – as far as I can remember. There is more, but I can’t recall everything – most of the important stuff is here, though.

    This was a stressful situation for me.

    I was giving out leaflets for about an hour before the police stopped me, I was giving out flyers and Posters on Bold Street in Liverpool Town Centre when I was stopped by two policemen and asked what I was doing. I told them I was giving out leaflets for the William Rodriguez “Last Man Out of the North Tower” talk in Liverpool, and then the two policemen started getting verbally aggressive and intimidating straight away by saying….

    “Are you making money out of this!? Is Rodriguez making money out of people!?”

    I said “No, what’s the problem? I’m only giving out flyers.”

    Then, they stopped and cautioned me – under the Terrorism act – they body-searched me and confiscated all my Rodriguez leaflets/flyers. They took my details and made a call on the radio and they told me they had put me on the “Terrorist List”. They said I was acting suspiciously.

    One of the policemen asked me if I was “anti-disestablishment”.

    I said, “Yes!” (I think he probably meant “anti-establishment”, but he said “anti-disestablishment”.)

    They said, “What about the firemen?”

    I said, “I’m not against the firemen.”

    They asked, “Where did I find out about this Rodriguez guy?”

    I said, “From the 9-11 Website.” I told them I didn’t think Muslims “did” 9/11.

    They said they wanted to look in my bag. I said “OK.”

    They asked me if I had any sharp objects. I said “Only a pair of scissors for cutting up leaflets.”

    I had more stuff in my bag – A4 papers, leaflets, postcards some DVDs etc.

    These were all for the talk that evening.

    The policeman said, “Are you going to give this out as well?” I said “No! That’s for the Casa! That’s for the Casa!” (The Casa is the venue where William Rodriguez was to speak at).

    They nearly took it, but I became submissive, because I didn’t want to lose all my stuff – I had just spent a lot of money on it – I told them I had just spent quite a bit on the printing. I had to hold all the things out of my pockets – in my hands. As I held my arms up, they body-searched me treating me as if I was a criminal/terrorist. I’m a peaceful person!

    They asked, “Do you have any ID?”

    I said, “Why do I need ID?”

    The policeman said, “That wasn’t what I asked you.”

    He said again, “Any ID?”

    I said, “No.”

    The 2 policemen told me that if I wanted to complain, I would have to go to a certain police station, but I can’t remember the name of it, because I wasn’t listening. They started lecturing me, saying things like “Where would we be without the Police?”. They said they would give me the benefit of the doubt. I had to “back down” and kind of say “a three bags full, sir”.

    I thought afterwards how I’d just been stopped under the terrorism act – there’s no benefit to that. I felt that I couldn’t stick up for myself, because they would have arrested me – that’s the impression they gave me. I didn’t want to miss the night at the Casa and end up in jail!

    And then they walked off with my WR leaflets. I felt that they had totally abused their power and that they had “got off” on their power trip.”

    Clearly, the policemen in this case broke the law.

    (1) They stopped and searched the gentleman without having reasonable grounds to believe that he might be a terrorist.
    (2) They stole a quantity of leaflets from him.
    (3) They indicated that they were acting in bad faith when they expressed their enthusiastic support for the White House-Pentagon account of 9/11.

    To the rhetorical question “where would we be without the Police?” I would answer: (i) Hanratty would still be alive and Michael Stone would not be in prison; (ii) the crime rate would be about the same, since the Police rarely bother to investigate crime unless the victim is a relative of a police officer, very rich or a Freemason; (iii) a lot of public money would be saved.

  • In case anyone is disposed to take my closing comment literally, I am in favour of a Police Force which investigates crime and catches criminals. I am against a Police Force that takes bribes, protects gangsters and fraudsters and puts innocent people in jail (and sometimes guns them down in cold blood).

    By the way. Can anyone answer the following:-

    (1) How is it that no complaint ever made by anyone to Sussex Police about Nicholas Van Hoogstraten ever resulted in a prosecution?

    (2) How is it that Mr Terry Adams was allowed to terrorise London unhindered for more than a decade? Did his eventual arrest and prosecution perhaps have something to do with the fact that he burgled the Freemasons?

  • Hywel Morgan 13th Aug '07 - 7:19pm

    “Sounds perfectly reasonable to me Hywel. If it’s not “lawful protest,” then I’m happy for the police to deal with them in any way they like.”

    I find that a worrying sentiment from a fellow Liberal Democrat.

    I’ll assume that you mean within the police’s lawful powers however 🙂

    Even then there is still a flaw. Using the terrorism legislation gives the police a great deal more power. Most notably they can detain for 28 days without charge.

    However the Terrorism Act has a lot of other powers that are open to misuse. EG it is an offence to have posession of virtually anything that could be helpful to a terrorist purpose. That could include things like maps and photographs of Heathrow airport. Obviously there is a “reasonable excuse” defence but it still gives the police the power to quiz you about why you have posession of virtually anything your carrying.

    The point is that Parliament enacted such restrictive provisions for the purpose of preventing Terrorist acts – not being used on lawful protestors or even unlawful ones.

    There are plenty of laws on the statute book to deal with people engaged in illegal protests

  • “That could include things like maps and photographs of Heathrow airport.”

    And it has already happened.

    MI5, who bullied Sam Silkin into prosecuting a jouranlist and two soldiers (the “ABC” trial), clearly felt that possession of photographs of the Post Office Tower was an offence contrary to Section 2, Offical Secrets Act 1919 (think that’s the date).

    It took the trial judge, Mars-Jones J, to halt this farcical prosecution.

    Hence the danger of enacting laws that provide mechanisms for malignant forces within the Police, Security Services, etc, to persecute individuals whose behaviour, while perfectly lawful, is inconvenient to the interests of elites.

    (And don’t bank on every trial judge being a Mars-Jones. Goddard, Melford-Stevenson or Michael Argyle would have hung them out to dry.)

    By the way, as far as I know, the Ordnance Survey continues to redact the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment from its maps, the rationale being that the Russians (during the Cold War) or potential terrorists (today) might find out where it is.

    Obviously Michael Foot and the CND marchers were too smart for the OS.

  • Sorry. It was two journalists and a soldier.

  • I was inclined to regard the Heathrow environmental protesters as a bunch of vaguely idealistic do-gooders who should at least be tolerated if not admired.

    That was until the execrable Monbiot muscled in on their act.

    Monbiot is best known as an environmental hair-shirter who wants us all to live in poverty (epecially black and brown people) so we can “save the planet”. In reality, he is a well-heeled, highly-paid Oxford educated Old Stovian, with the insufferably priggish know-all arrogance that goes with it.

    And he is quite prepared to make Mephistopholean pacts to keep the lolly coming in. Witness his disgraceful hit piece on the 9/11 Truth Movement in the Grauniad. Monbiot knows perfectly well the propaganda he is regurgitating is lies from beginning to end, but he does it because he wants his articles published by national papers.

    The man is a political prostitute.

    Sorry, environmental camp. You have lost my sympathies.

  • I always enjoy a vigorous debate, as it is the only true method in which all manner of conflicting viewpoints are entertained and exchanged to wheedle out the weaknesses on each side.

    Any set of provocative comments is far more engaging than the passive homilies and passifying platitudes normally elicited in current climate of commercial media where constantly replayed postures pass for logical argumentation, so I also offer tepid encouragement to Laurence.

    I fear, however, Laurence may be undoing his own protestrations against the party by undertaking the very tactics he denounces in order to get the desired reaction.

    Talk is infact probably far too cheap to provide a convincing demonstration of the ability to move and motivate people, so the manifestations of political theory in action does provide a real (and the best) test of the ideas that lie behind them, of which war is probably the ultimate example.

    It does, though, strike me as perverse to expect to treat militant extremists and environmental campaigners according to the same procedures as it is clearly flawed by counter-productive, short-sighted and heavy-handed neglect of the distinctions and aims of each.

    I can only suggest that there does seem to be a difference in how people view the law which emanates from the traditions by which laws have been arrived at – so in this sense Britain (or at least England and Wales) is definitely another country.

    One could extrapolate to say that these traditions have resulted in different political arguments and also determine possible courses of history as a consequence (and thus social and political infrastructures), but that may be to go too far.

    The current Labour camp does appear to have coalesced (as a direct corollary of acceptance to the social market) around a construition of the European model that legality is such a means by which to engineer society (ie by limiting dissent, since law of this nature can never be wrong), which contrasts with a large residual body of opinion that still holds law to reflect the values and interests of the people (ie where it is unenforcable, incoherent or inconsistent with any of those values and interests the law is an ass to be ignored or actively opposed), but for me this is a simple problem of emphasis – that both understandings should implicitly coalign, rather than explicitly diverge.

  • Laurence, if you read the list of comments again (which shouldn’t take you too long, as you’ve written most of them) I think you’ll get an idea of the flow of the thread and what I’m referring to.

  • I think you do have and interesting critique to offer about the state of the party, Laurence, and it is an interesting problem how to summarise it.

    The best analogy I can come up with (providing the clearest distinctions) is the classical example of the fall of the Roman republic.

    As a party we LibDems do seem to have a tendency to rely on the ‘soft’ liberal creed of an idealised Cicero, while ignoring the realities and decisive nature of the Octavian approach.

    Getting back to the ‘documentary’, and particularly the subject of detention without trial, I thought it was an overlooked point that in accepting the current position of 28 days we have already curtailed civil liberty to an extent and this reflects the striking of a balance between the extremes.

    And this is the point: liberty is not simple opposition to authority (whatever a multitude of political compasses pretend) and liberals (ie the LibDems) will never have the mentality to be a success in government without exercising an amount of authority: when it comes to first principles you must first establish your princeps!

    Ask “cui bono?” and the answer is that some always benefit more than others, but the important issue is whether the common good is served.

  • James S:

    I am more than a little astonished to see Cicero described as a “liberal”! Presumably keeping slaves, invading other people’s countries, nailing people to crosses, watching people being eaten by lions as entertainment, etc, is “liberal”. Small things that Oxbridge educated classicists tend to overlook.

    The fall of the Roman Republic was a case of one of two rival elites gaining ascendancy over the other. Both sides were as vile and odious as the other, as far as the historical record is able to tell us.

    Oh, and I agree with Laurence on one point at least. Your comments are unintelligible woffle.

  • Hywel Morgan 16th Aug '07 - 7:35pm

    “Cicero described as a “liberal”! Presumably keeping slaves,”

    Didn’t stop Jefferson 🙂

  • “nailing people to crosses, watching people being eaten by lions as entertainment”…

    … tough liberalism?

  • Thanks for the constructive comment Angus, but you can’t judge historical events according to the terms of today and I think the historians you’d like to refer to may have taken that into account (although I willing to digress on the point for you) – perhaps you might find some enlightenment by seeking the dictionary description of ‘analogy’.

    Laurence, put your tickle-stick away.

  • Angus: “The first law is that the historian shall never dare to set down what is false; the second is that he shall never dare to conceal the truth; the third that there shall be no suspicion in his work of either favouritism or prejudice.” Cicero

  • James S:

    How many times was your quotation copied before it reached the invention of printing at the end of the 15th century? How many misreadings and editorial tamperings contaminated the text during these one-and-a-half millenia?

    The only reliable Roman documents are ones inscribed on stone (and occasionally bronze and lead). These are usually funerary inscriptions, curses, milestones, short votive texts, ownership marks, workshop imprints, etc.

    Consider, for example, the Ravenna Cosmography, of which there are at least two versions. When matched against epigraphic attestations and modern reflexes, almost all the locations listed are wrong. The same goes for Ptolemy, Strabo and Pliny, though none of these authors has had their work so badly mutilated at the Ravenna Cosmography, it has to be said.

    The point I am making is we have no way of knowing if Cicero actually did write what you quote, or whether this is actually the work of some anonymous mediaeval monk.

    One does have to recall that Cicero could not have written voluminously, given that his writing materials amounted to papyrus, vellum and wax.

    Almost all ancient historians lied through their teeth. The one who appears to have been reasonably objective is Pliny the Elder, who seems to have recorded more or less what he saw and learned on his travels (though even Pliny made blunders when he speculated).

    The Ancient Romans were possibly the most savage people in history. The only culture they had they stole from the Greeks.

    (Pliny refers to the town recorded on a contemporaneous lapidary inscription as “Salpensa” as “Salpesa”. As a civil servant in this very region, one would have expected Pliny to know the town’s true name. And I expect he did. This is likely to be a mis-copy.)

    Now back to your Cicero quotation.

    These are semtiments with which liberals will agree. But so will conservatives, including libertarian and authoritarian conservatives. And democratic socialists, too.

    And I have to tell you that David Icke claims he is putting into practice what Cicero (if it is he) was preaching all those years ago.

    When Icke makes his claims about lizards and ritual child abuse he is simply telling the world the terrible truth – as he understands it, of course.

    Now, I doubt if anyone could seriously dispute that Icke is a liberal (with a small “l”, that is), however flawed his discriminatory judgment might be.

  • “By itself, truth always wins. A lie needs an accomplice.” Epicetus

    What was that you were saying about waffle?

  • “A stupid man’s report of what [another] says is never accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.” Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy.

    “The Puritan hated bearbaiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.” TB Macaulay, History of England.

    To be fair to you though, Angus, I also agree with Edisons succinctly-made point that “all bibles are man-made”, as truth chimes throughout all lands, but since it is so the point of the quote from Cicero is also still pertinent.

    It is of continual refreshment to find ones expectations confounded: I thought claiming Octavian for the liberal cause would be more controversial, especially considering your views on monarchy. There are many more that need to be reclaimed, but it’s a start.

    I was trying to ask whether 28 days marks a fair balance between liberty and security or if it is actually TOO LONG to be held without charge, any thoughts?

  • My head hurts.

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