11 March, 2005: Look! Over there! TERRORISTS!

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I don't usually try to do this `web logging in real time' thing, but three comments about the proposed Prevention of Terrorism bill:

Firstly, all of the debate about this bill is essentially racist.

The previous legislation was explicitly racist. It said that the Home Secretary could gaol anybody he wanted, so long as they weren't British.

Superficially, the new bill looks non-racist, because it gives the Home Secretary the power to lock up anyone he likes -- foreign or not -- under house arrest. But note that all parties in the debate are not talking about locking up anyone; they're talking about locking up `suspected terrorists'.

Specifically we are supposed to hold in mind brown people who are Muslims (such as those who have been bailed from Belmarsh today).

This is, I suspect, is why the majority of people in this country are in favour of giving Charles Clarke the power to lock up anyone he likes. He says `suspected terrorists', and means `anyone he likes'; but people interpret this as `eeeevil brown people', and so it's a-OK with them. By contrast, I suspect that there are rather few Irish Catholics living in this country who think that this legislation is a good idea.

(Why do I say that Charles Clarke intends to lock up `anyone he likes'? Surely he is fluffy and nice, and has only our best interests at heart? And anyway, won't there be some condition about evidence from the `security services'? No messing about now -- these people might be THE TERRORISTS.

Well, in honesty I don't know whether Charles Clarke actually intends to start having people hauled off the streets by armed goons and held under house arrest purely for his own personal ends -- MICHAEL HOWARD DISAPPEARS, REMAINING TORY BLAMES HOME SECRETARY -- and even if he does I expect that it will take a few more years of deterioration before we wind up completely in the manure. But that said, the government's claim that the people in Belmarsh have been identified by the security services as dangerous terrorists should be taken just as seriously as the similar claim that the were `weapons of mass destruction' in Iraq. More generally, this is pure argument from authority, and is no way to run a justice system, even if giving individual ministers the power to lock people up were a good idea..)

Secondly, the `promise' offered by Tony Blair to bring in new legislation in July -- a promise which the Liberal Democrats and Conservative Parties have apparently now accepted -- is, of course, of no value. I expect that any legislation is offered to replace this bill in July -- if any -- will not restore habeas corpus.

Similarly, the proposed `sunset clause' would also have been worthless, because there is no guarantee that it would not be repealed.

Thirdly, if the Tories had retained their collective backbone, the government could, if so minded, just bring the thing in under the s.20 of the Civil Contingencies Act, which would require neither the consent of Parliament nor Royal assent, though the bill would then have to be renewed every thirty days.

We live in interesting times.

Any suggestions for `countries to flee to'? The current list is Australia, India, or New Zealand, I think.

Copyright (c) 2005 Chris Lightfoot; available under a Creative Commons License.