Thursday, November 25, 2004

British Liberty R.I.P.

If it isn't dead already, British liberty is certainly one sickly patient and in the Queen's speech are proposals to give its injured body another good kicking.

Once upon a time, conservative Home Secretaries had an amusing tendency to become more liberal as they were "mugged by the reality" of working with the British penal system. Then came Michael Howard - shackler of pregnant women; scourge of immigrants fleeing persecution. His "prison works" speech at the Tory Party conference cemented his reputation as the most right-wing Home Secretary in living memory.

That was before the advent of the New Labour Guardians who have brought us charming legal revivals such as the detention of terrorist suspects without charge or trial and have overseen a legal situation where evidence from torture is admissible in a British courtroom - provided the torture isn't done by us, of course.

If this wasn't bad enough, consider what has now been proposed, in the Queen's speech and elsewhere: a defendant's prior convictions are to be heard in court prior to the determination of guilt; drugs tests for those accused of other crimes; a national police force (to combat terrorism, what other reason could there possibly be?); and every British subject is to have a barcode tattooed on their arse before they can buy or sell...

Ok, the last one's a bit of an exaggeration; I mean the proposed introduction of ID cards. That Jack Straw, himself an ex-Home Secretary with impeccable authoritarian credentials, was reported to have civil liberty concerns about the scheme should cause anyone who doesn't use "liberal" as a swear word to pause for thought.

ID cards are not, as some argue, a simple rationalization of our routine need to identify ourselves in various situations with bank cards, driving licenses, birth certificates and the like. All these are context-bound: I show I have the right to drive with my license; to travel abroad with my passport; my right to residency with my tenancy agreement. What is sinister about a national ID card is that it goes beyond any of this; it is to show those in authority that I have the right to be.

While there is not at present any proposal to oblige people to carry it at all times, I can't imagine this government forking out an estimated £3bn without introducing this at later date - to combat terrorism, no doubt we'll be told.

And we all know which sections of our community will be disproportionately required to verify their non-terrorist, non-bogus asylum-seeker status, don't we?

Meanwhile, don't forget to do your bit for National Efficiency: eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day; do at least two-and-a-half hours of healthy exercise a week; don't drink more than twenty-eight units of alcohol per week; and, of course, don't smoke - especially in the presence of food.

Make you live longer?

Dunno - but it'll certainly feel like it.

Update: Found this fun site linked at Dead Men Left - have a looksee...

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