Guy Aitchison suggests that now the new Shadow Cabinet has been announced, there remains serious cause for concern about the post-Blair/Brown Labour Party on the civil liberties front:
Balls has been given the shadow home secretary role, shadowing Theresa May. As the man responsible for the dreadful vetting and barring scheme as children’s minister (now mercifully killed off by the coalition) he has always struck me as one of those authoritarian wannabe “hard-men” at the top of New Labour. His voting record shows he was a supporter of ID cards, 90 days detention, and all the rest of the last government’s draconian anti-terror laws and his urge will be to tack to the right on immigration, as he did during his leadership campaign.
Given the pitiful absence of liberals in the mix, though, we may just have to be grateful that the role didn’t fall to Alan Johnson who goaded the Coalition back in June for being “obsessed” with civil liberties, accusing it of being the “political wing of Liberty”. And there are some small, and surprising, glimmers of liberalism from Balls who, as the Guardian’s Alan Travis pointed out to me on Twitter, is against ASBOs and for a welfare approach to youth justice.
I haven’t seen any redeeming qualities about the ‘new’ (reshuffled) gathering of unreformed civil liberties deniers. And then there’s Phil Woolas, who George Eaton is far more than just ‘concerned’ about:
Having run one of the most disgraceful election campaigns in recent history, Woolas is currently fighting an attempt to have his victory overturned by his Lib Dem opponent on the grounds of “corrupt practices”. He has consistently denied breaking electoral law to secure his seat and said it would have been “political suicide” to do so.
Below is the demagogic leaflet published by Woolas’s campaign, which, according to his defeated opponent, Elwyn Watkins, suggested that the Lib Dems were courting support from Islamist extremists.The text reads:
Extremists are trying to hijack this election. They want you to vote Lib Dem to punish Phil for being strong on immigration. The Lib Dems plan to give hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants the right to stay. It is up to you? Do you want the extremists to win?
Legal documents submitted to the High Court argue that there was a calculated attempt by the Woolas campaign to whip up racial tensions in a bid to get the “white vote” behind him.
An email by Woolas’s election agent, Joseph Fitzpatrick, to the candidate declared: “we need … to explain to the white community how the Asians will take him out … If we don’t get the white vote angry he’s gone.” Another from Fitzpatrick to Steve Green, the MP’s campaign adviser, said: “we need to go strong on the militant Moslem (sic) angle” and proposed the headline “Militant Moslems (sic) target Woolas.”
A verdict on the case is expected on 5 November and defeat for Woolas would see him expelled from Parliament and a by-election held in the highly marginal seat of Oldham East and Saddleworth. Regardless of the morality of his appointment, the pragmatic case against appointing an MP currently subject to a court action is clear. The court may yet find in Woolas’s favour, but his presence on Labour’s frontbench is hard to see as anything but a serious mistake.
On the face of it Ed Miliband’s rise as Labour leader suggested lessons had been learned. He attacked the Blair regime for having gone to war in Iraq, he said he understood there had been a problem with New Labour’s approach to civil liberties, and repeatedly said he ‘got’ people’s fundamental issues with New Labour’s instinct to control and bully. His appointments though seem to show a different side to him – there was briefly a rumour that Andy Burnham had been offered the Shadow Home Secretary role which would really have been catastrophic – one which suggests that he may have the right instincts personally, but is prepared cravenly to give in to the authoritarian tendencies still prevailing in his parliamentary party. If, as expected, Labour attacks the ConDem coalition on civil liberities from the Right, the Labour Party will remain unelectable.
If you need last minute proof why New Labour is no longer fit to govern, check out Home Secretary Alan Johnson’s defence of the government’s policy of destituting asylum seekers:
”What people see is a sort of ”Euro-friendly” that would have us in the single currency. They would have an amnesty for illegal immigrants, they would allow asylum seekers to work, which is utter, utter madness.”
I think that’s an appalling, inhuman position to take. New Labour’s policy of forced destitution of asylum seekers has been one of the many low points of their period in office, but Cathy Newman has gone further and fact-checked Johnson’s wider claim that it was ‘madness’ because 83% of asylum seekers were found not to have had a genuine claim:
His 83 per cent figure ignores 10 per cent of asylum claims which were granted leave to stay in the UK on humanitarian or discretionary grounds – making it hard to dismiss these as not genuine.
He also ignores the cases subsequently found to have genuine merit on appeal – just over a quarter of those that make it through to an appeal tribunal.
That’s not to dispute that the majority of asylum claims are rejected. But given the context in which Johnson cited the statistic and the need to be careful about the way figures are presented on such an emotive subject, we rate his claim fiction.
Good old Alan Johnson. The party which is currently promoting ‘fairness for all’ clearly means nothing of the sort.
The government has for months ignored the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) ruling that its policy of indefinite retention of the DNA of people not convicted of a crime was illegal. Home Secretary Alan Johnson today played further mischief with the human rights of hundreds and thousands of entirely innocent people, purely for partisan political advantage in the pre-general election ‘wash up’ period:
The Conservatives have dropped their opposition to the government’s crime and security bill, including its controversial provisions to allow the police to retain the DNA profiles of innocent people for up to six years.
Instead of blocking the bill, the shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, made a fresh commitment that the Tories would bring in early legislation to ensure the DNA profiles of innocent people arrested for minor offences would not be retained on the national police DNA database.
“We will not seek to block this bill because the indefinite retention of innocent people’s DNA is unacceptable and has been ruled illegal,” said Grayling.He added that on taking office the Conservatives would also change the official guidance to the police, to give people the automatic right to have their DNA withdrawn from the database if have been wrongly accused of a minor crime.The decision follows a threat by the home secretary, Alan Johnson, to ditch the DNA provisions of the crime and security bill entirely, unless the Conservatives dropped their opposition to keeping profiles of innocent people on the database for up to six years.
Johnson said this morning he would pull all provisions from the amendment bill today if the Tories refuse to assent to the government’s plans. The bill is destined for this afternoon’s wash-up session to complete the government’s legislative programme ahead of the dissolution of parliament for the election.
Johnson told Sky News: “This is a basic example of how they [the Tories] talk tough on crime but act soft.”
I don’t normally use strong language on this blog, but what a cynical bastard the Home Secretary is. He’d rather play politics with one of the most important human rights issues in Britain today, and keep the country in breach of the Court’s ruling, instead of ensuring there was a system of appeal for people even to argue for their removal from the database. Yet more undemocratic game playing in the ‘wash up’ period by a government which has presided over the most out-of-touch, corrupt and inept parliament in living memory. The right to privacy and the presumption of innocence are commodities too precious to use as electioneering bargaining chips. When will this abuse end?
The threat of international terrorism to the UK was raised from substantial to the second highest level of severe last night, meaning an attack is “highly likely”.
Alan Johnson, the home secretary, said there was no intelligence to suggest an attack was imminent.
I’ll let the words speak for themselves, shall I? Why don’t we all keep an eye on bad police behaviour, which inevitably gets justified through a ‘severe’ terror level?
David Mitchell discusses the furore about the Islamist march ‘planned’ by Islam4UK in Wootton Bassett. Considering the group hasn’t even made the necessary initial representation to the police in order for the march to take place, I’ve found myself astonished at the level of invective raised, particularly the calls for it to be banned. Firstly it obviously was never going to take place anyway, so why make such a fuss, but doesn’t freedom of speech also bring with it the freedom to be offensive or to cause offence? Mitchell is thoroughly right in his support for the freedom to offend for all:
The thing about freedom of speech is that people are allowed to say offensive, indefensible things; that we needn’t fear that because we’re sure that wiser counsels are more likely to convince. “Let the idiots and bullies speak openly and they will be revealed for what they are!” is the idea. It’s a brilliant one and, in confident, educated societies, it almost always works – certainly much more often than any of the alternatives. Why has Alan Johnson lost confidence in this principle? Why have the 700,000 signatories of a Facebook petition calling for the event to be banned?
I know there are circumstances in which freedom of speech is rightly limited – I’m not arguing for a repeal of all libel or incitement to hatred laws. But it’s difficult to see how this demonstration would incite hatred of anyone other than the demonstrators. Public safety can also be an issue. I understand that the police couldn’t let the protest go ahead without a reasonable expectation that it wouldn’t become violent. But if it is banned, let us be 100% sure, let our consciences be absolutely clear, that public safety was the reason, not the excuse.
Entirely right. Of course it’ll never even get that far, because Islam4UK never intended for it to get that far; they merely wanted (as Mitchell says) the free, anti-Muslim invective to prove their case against the establishment. Alan Johnson has said he’d be prepared to ban the march on public order grounds, but contained as that was in the language of having himself felt offended by the march, it’s unclear on what grounds he was really prepared to do so. Let’s be clear: although it was never intended to take place, that march should have had the nominal right to take place in the same way that reprinting the Danish cartoons of Mohammed remains something we all have the nominal right to do. It may cause offence, but being offended is part and parcel for all of us of living in this society. Islam4UK’s Anjem Choudary articulates his own position:
Watch how he deftly blurs the lines between religion and race for his own, self-serving intent. What a bastard, right? He’s then followed by Gordon Brown:
And I couldn’t agree less with Brown’s reasons for wanting the march stopped – being ‘disgusting’, ‘not having public support’ and an ‘abuse of goodwill’ along with being (you guessed it) ‘offensive’ aren’t anywhere near good enough reasons for limiting anyone’s freedom of speech. I agree with his sentiments, and I suspect David Mitchell is right when he says Choudary and Islam4UK’s real intent is merely to ‘defile our holy places’, but is our offense at this really something we need protection from? At what point did our we lose our ability to cope with being offended, when there are so many straightforward strategies available to deal with speech we just don’t like, such as ignoring it?
When we dehumanise other human beings we lose part of what makes us human. If I had the time and resources I would have gladly attended the protests at the ‘Jungle’ outside Calais, the camp from which the mainly Afghan refugees were forcibly removed this week. Sadly though I had to watch from afar again, as people in search of a better life were deemed unacceptable, and unworthy of the human rights to which they are entitled. Jason Parkinson’s piece below shows you the brutal reality of what happened:
When French immigration minister Eric Besson calls the Calais “jungle” camp clearance a “dignified” success, Alan Johnson expresses his “delight” and immigration minister Phil Woolas questions whether these refugees deserve sanctuary, they expose the asylum system as profoundly broken.
What I saw at 8am on Tuesday was not dignified or humane. Men were wrestled and thrown to the ground, others head-locked and throttled. One boy collapsed and was removed. Not by the police, but by protesters.
As Parkinson points out, EU law says that asylum seekers must claim asylum in the first country they land in. But it’s an horrific cop out to suggest to people genuinely fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq or Eritrea (few of whom will do so by air) can only claim asylum in member states which are essentially the closest to them. Italy? With its current persecution of Roma? Greece? With its treatment of refugees? That system has resulted in:
illegal push-backs of migrants at the Turkish border, the puncturing of boats in the Aegean Sea, deplorable conditions of detention, police brutality, and various legal and administrative tricks to keep asylum seekers from lodging a claim, all of which Human Rights Watch exhaustively documented in two reports published late last year.
The Dublin Convention is clearly a failure, yet Britain and France express delight at the prospect of sending refugees back to the first EU country they entered, which in many cases for refugees formerly living in the Calais ‘jungle’ was Greece. This is particularly alarming considering many fellow EU governments have stopped transferring asylum seekers back there. Yet immigration minister Phil Woolas:
rejected suggestions that (even) those (merely) with family links should be allowed to come to Britain to claim asylum: “If they were asylum seekers they would have claimed asylum in France or in the first country they came to,” he said. The home secretary said “genuine refugees” would be offered protection if they claimed asylum in the first safe country they reached. The rest were expected to go home.
Such compassion. No doubt there will be economic migrants in their number, no doubt hardened criminals too. But to dismiss the genuine needs and concerns of refugees, and falling back on an asylum system which benefits neither refugee nor host country is just monstrous. Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MEP has spoken out, saying:
“Rather than fulfilling their responsibilities to seekers of asylum under both EU and international law, the French and British governments are turning a blind eye to the suffering taking place on their own doorsteps. Home Secretary Alan Johnson‘s glee in the wake of this aggressive police raid is particularly disturbing.
“The plan for mass deportations of these refugees rides roughshod over the European Convention on Human Rights, the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Geneva Convention. And given that so many facing expulsion are children, the plans may also breach the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“This short term ‘solution’ is not only inhumane – it will not work. The French are not playing their part in allowing people to claim asylum in Calais, and must commit to making the official procedures for seeking asylum more accessible to those in need. Equally, other EU Member states must recognise their duty to share the responsibility.”
The government, dissatisfied with public indifference to ID cards has decided to patronising us into allowing our identities to be privatised:
The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) will unveil animated fingerprint characters this week to promote the scheme to businesses, ahead of a consumer campaign in early 2010. The first wave of activity aims to build recognition among those businesses that will be regularly presented with cards by consumers. These include those in the retail, finance and education sectors.
‘The government is wasting vast sums of taxpayers’ money on the scheme,’ said shadow home secretary Chris Grayling. ‘Instead of marketing the scheme, it should be scrapping it.’ The Conservative Party has pledged to axe the cards if it wins the next general election.
It’s really shocking that a government which a) doesn’t have money to spend on needless projects and b) needs a big idea which works to catapult it into the next general election to give it a snowball’s chance in hell of winning should be continuing with its ID cards adventure. But it’s also not surprising. Home Secretary Alan Johnson’s committed the Home Office to a wholesale redefinition of identity for the 21st century (one defined by government, surprisingly enough), so despite his attempts to have us believe ID cards are dead, we still have a fight on our hands.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson has previously insisted that his hands were tied, that he was legally unable to intervene in the extradition of Gary McKinnon to the US. However in his meeting this week with David Davis, Michael Meacher and Chris Huhne he changed his tune:
“[Johnson] did accept that it would be possible for him to intervene and that it wasn’t unlawful for him to intervene, but claimed the limits of his discretion meant he had to be governed by law and precedents,” said [Meacher's] spokesman. “He was concerned that precedents would be set for terrorists.”
In a blog post on Wednesday, Meacher said Johnson felt his scope for intervention was narrowed by Article 3 of the Convention on Human Rights, which limits interference in extradition to cases where the subject is at real risk of execution, torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment.
The three politicians came away from the meeting feeling that Johnson had been prepared to listen to their case, and that it “wasn’t the end of the road”, Meacher’s spokesman said.
The group of MPs is now trying to meet the US Ambassador to try to get the US government to withdraw extradition proceedings on human rights grounds. The Department of Public Prosecutions believes McKinnon doesn’t have a case to answer in the UK and that the case won’t stand up in a US court; Johnson should use his powers to step in and end this circus. So he believes the precedent would aid terrorists, but I don’t accept for a moment that a UFO-obsessed computer hacker with Asperger’s Syndrome is a legitimate sacrifice to the continuing ‘war on terror’.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson may believe he doesn’t have the power to prevent Gary McKinnon’s extradition under the Extradition Act 2003, but many MPs believe otherwise and are working to change his mind:
A delegation of three Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat members will tell Mr Johnson in a meeting at the Home Office that he has the “power and the duty” to step in to prevent Mr McKinnon, who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, being sent for trial in the United States.
David Davis, the former Shadow Home Secretary, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne and Michael Meacher, the former Labour minister, are joining forces to urge a rethink.
They will present Mr Johnson with a detailed legal opinion challenging the Government’s claim that it has no power to intervene in the extradition which has already been agreed by the courts.
It appears Matrix Chambers believe that the courts have primary, but not exclusive responsibility in extradition cases. McKinnon’s extradition would clearly be unjust, considering his Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis it would also be a breach of his human right, and conducted under a law never voted on by parliament. Johnson should block the extradition, and confirm an immediate review of this seriously flawed legislation.
Control orders appear to be on their way out, after becoming victims of their own twisted logic:
Most of the remaining control orders imposed on terror suspects are expected to be revoked following the decision by the home secretary, Alan Johnson, to free a man with Libyan and British nationality after three years under virtual house arrest.
The control order imposed on the man, known only as AF, was withdrawn last week as his lawyers prepared for a court hearing at which Johnson would have been forced to disclose the secret intelligence case against him.
The decision followed a landmark law lords ruling in June that it was unlawful to use “secret evidence” to place restrictions, including a 16-hour curfew, on terror suspects who had never been charged or tried in open court.
The unanimous ruling by nine judges, led by the senior law lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, opened the way for the 20 suspects on control orders to launch fresh legal challenges demanding to know the nature of the allegations against them.
This abuse of habeas corpus was one of the most disgusting pieces of legislation of the entire New Labour project. It’s a fundamental tenet of our way of life that you can’t lock anyone up without laying down a charge against them and providing evidence to back up that charge. Yet the state deemed it acceptable to control people’s movements, to inhibit their freedom, to limit their possessions and restrict their ability to communicate because they ‘couldn’t be prosecuted in court’ for fear of ‘revealing secret intelligence’. So they were ‘terror suspects’, so what? Habeas corpus has never been restricted by race, religion, gender or social class; to suggest that the law and judicial system couldn’t cope with certain individuals because of their race, religion or political affiliations was always illogical at best, deeply racist at worst. And refusing even to pass the evidence held against suspects to their lawyers was a huge violation of human rights as laid down by the Universal Declaration and the European Convention on Human Rights. Now the justification of ‘secret evidence’ has been thrown out, control orders seem likely to pass into one of the murkiest eras of modern British history. Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty said:
“Whilst some people have been driven quite mad by years of punishment without trial, suspects are allowed to wander through densely populated public spaces and many have disappeared. Those responsible for this policy should be thoroughly ashamed for creating so much injustice for so little security in return.”
The Register has noticed that the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) is looking into using biometric, ID card-based data for its disclosure process:
Proposals to use ID cards are being quietly developed alongside official “research” into how to incorporate fingerprint data into employment background checks, which was alluded to in the Criminal Records Bureau’s most recent business plan.
“This research is still in the early stages of feasibility and several options are being considered as part of this work, including options for the use of ID card data and fingerprints,” a CRB spokeswoman said.
“We really are in the very early stages of looking at the possibility of introducing biometrics into the Disclosure service. It would therefore be inappropriate to comment or speculate on any detail as yet.”
Forget for a moment the false dawn of biometrics, does anyone really think this won’t happen, considering how desperate the government is to find new, underhanded ways to compel people into having ID cards? Despite what Alan Johnson would have you believe, the government’s identity strategy is dependent on everyone having an ID card. And as the Register points out, the Independent Safeguarding Authority’s (ISA) impending Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) will put enormous extra pressure on the CRB, who will no doubt look for the most seductive solutions to reduce their already appalling error rate.
Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security – if you don’t want this nightmare scenario, then it’s time to join NO2ID.