Sunday, 15 June 2008
Posted by Dave
I'm struck by a sense of deja-vu concerning the latest wranglings over the 42-day terrorism suspect detention bill. It feels to me like fox hunting all over again. That is to say, it feels to me like a trivial issue picked out of a massive cauldron of simmering issues of the day, purely for it's merits on being able to actualy win on the issue and thereby divert attention from an otherwise beleaguered government.
Hang on a moment, I hear you say, surely Brown can't have picked the 42-day dentention issue as a popularist issue? Actually that's exactly why he did it. See there's not a whole hell of a lot of Brown policies today that the public do feel a great affinity towards, as evidence by his remarkably low poll scores. In fact when polled, the public come up north of 66% approval concerning the 42-day issue.
Browns miscalculation here, and it's a hell of a miscalculation, is that he's picked precisely the sort of issue where actual politicians examining proposals are going to make a heck of a better informed judgement than the public will (who will just hear the question 'are you in favor of locking up terrorists longer?'). Politicians might and have noted that virtually no one is actually asking for 42-days. There's no cases where it was necessary. There isn't a shred of evidence to say it's worth doing at all.
The heart of the bill also rudely points out the odd streak of British politics. Socialist government but with a heavy authoritarian theme up against a conservative oposition with a libertarian theme. The issue is more of a socialist traditional fighting ground so it's hardly surprising that when it comes to the fight suddenly there's a heck of a lot of genuine dissent on the labour back benches. Right at the time when Brown really can't afford more hard questions be asked of his judgement and, yes, his leadership of the party.
Convservatives were all set to benefit from rising popularity, yet another major strategic Brown blunder which was going to undermine the only Brown policy that had popular support. Then David Davis resigned as an MP (and hence his shadow home secretary role - a very senior role indeed it should be noted) and chucked a proverbial sack load of spanners into the works.
Cameron's problem is that he opposes the bill, but wont say up front that they'll reverse it if (let's face it, when) the Conservatives get in power. David Davis is abit of a maverick who really isn't enjoying time under Cameron, not agreeing with the leader on several key points. He's decided to make his personal play here but who knows how he's actually justified it in his head because his friends around him are really none the wiser. What does seem clear is he's not exactly slashing his wrists about the headache this is all proving for Cameron.
The rest of the Conservative party are rightly, very displeased. As one of them, unnamed, in a recent Guardian story sdescribed Davis as being 'out of his fucking mind' for drawing attention to one of Brown's few popular policies.
Course things have taken an unexpected turn with rebel Labour MPs feeling so strongly they've announced they'll campaign for Davis' in he by-election which kind of forces Brown to sack him and potentially escalate the issue further.
With all this cut-and-thrust of political activism and, you might say, genuinely heart-felt cross-party support on issues people obviously feel very strongly about, how can I say it reminds me of something as trivial as fox hunting. The trivality is why although it is more significant in one major way:
If you look at the bill itself, it's been watered down so much with so many safe guards - Eg. prosecution has to present cause to a judge to apply for an extension, it only applies to terrorism cases, the order lapses after a fixed period whether applied or not and hefty compensation for victims etc - that really, it doesn't represent this great evil it's been made out to be. It's just representative of an idea, the authoritarian versus libertarian debate. It looks like it's really not the actual bill but the idea of it, the straw that broke the camel's back. There's an upwelling of feeling that the years of labour have eroded too much.
Which is all very nice and a debate worth having but let's just stand back a bit for a moment shall we? Take a look at what's going on in the world. Rampant oil price rises, Zimbabwe, Iran and of course the horrifying prospect of a genuine recession. Yet what our MPs are arguing about is the theoretical ability to detain suspected terrorists for a couple more weeks without charge.
It's a fucking insult to be honest. If we had an effective political system the cut and thrust of political debate would be on these issues. Not grand standing and party politiking on absolute diversionary nonsense such as this! Yet this is the crap on the front pages of papers. Not fuel running out in petrol stations across the country. Not Zimbabwe (former British colony right) decending into a military junta. Not climate change, the very real prospect of a frighteningly militant Islamist state aquiring nuclear weapons. Fucking 42 days.
Not for the first timeI feel like we need a new political party altogether.