Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Free To Do As I'm Told

I've just stumbled across a great post by Henry Porter over at Comment is Free. The whole thing is well worth a read.

The Christmas holiday brought much depressing news all of which challenges Clarke's ridiculous spin that the government is simply trying to protect us from terrorism. Last week we learned that it wants the private sector to run and manage a communications database that will record the data from everyone's emails, telephone calls and internet connections. The former DPP, Sir Ken MacDonald, has called the plan "an unimaginable hell house of personal and private information."

He went on to say, "We must avoid surrendering our freedom as autonomous human beings to such an ugly future. We should make judgments that are compatible with our status as free people."

Well said Sir Ken! Security should not be chased at any price, but within the context of liberty requisite with living our lives unencumbered from state interference in our activities.

Given the choice between [Charles] Clarke and Sir Ken's view, I know which I trust. Clarke is an old-style statist control freak – someone who has only a very feeble grasp on the conventions of the free society that he has benefited from and which he now seeks to undermine. The former DPP, who served until late last year with an unblemished record, understands the necessary balance between the state's authority and individual freedom. He is one of the few friends of Tony Blair to do so.

Indeed. It is shocking and deeply terrifying to see the lack of understanding of such an important issue from politicians of all parties, especially the Government. Tony Blair's grasp was so limp as to be non-existent.

In the Conservatives' newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, Philip Johnston today reveals that Labour has created over 1,000 new imprisonable offences. "It is now an imprisonable offence to allow an unlicensed concert to take place in a church hall," he writes.

You can go to prison if your child fails to attend school, or if you smoke in a public place, or if you fail to obtain a passport for your pet donkey or if you are a child caught in possession of a firework at any time other than on or around November 5 or New Year's Day.

It is hard not to agree with the sentiment voiced last week by Andrew Alexander in another conservative newspaper, the Daily Mail. He wrote:

The government, astonishingly, has apparently created a new imprisonable offence every four days for the past decade. Curiously little row has been made about this, least of all by what passes for the parliamentary opposition.

And  what of the Conservative's flaccid opposition? Well, Ken nails it with this cutting analysis...

Perhaps the answer lies in what Philip Johnston calls the "criminal justice arms race". That is to say the Conservatives dare not risk being sidelined as weak on terror and criminality in the run up to the general election. There is probably a lot in this but nothing excuses their silence... From where I sit it looks like a disastrous failure of nerve and conviction.

But perhaps the single best paragraph from that Telegraph article Ken quotes above, is this, which I think sums up part of the problem very concisely...

Activities that were never unlawful, like smoking in a public place, are now crimes because they are objectionable; yet eating a burger and chips on a crowded train, equally revolting, is not and nor should it be. This failure to distinguish between a crime and a wrongdoing has warped the criminal justice system. As Lady Stern said: "The Government has gone mad in looking to use criminal justice law as a way to deal with social problems. It is extraordinary."

In a House of Lords debate before Christmas, Lady Stern quoted from Governing Through Crime by Jonathan Simon, professor of law at Berkeley in California. He wrote: "Social problems have been reconceptualised as crimes, with an attendant focus on assigning fault and imposing consequences." The outcome is "to erode social trust and, with it, the very scaffolding of a 'free' society"

Absolutely. The law should exists solely to protect the freedom of individuals, ensuring no other individual or group of individuals, and most importantly the State, violates that freedom. Attempts to use the law and full force of the State to construct a 'model society' of any kind, legislating on social activities, morals and ethics, is wholly odious and heanous.


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