Monday, December 01, 2008

Smith and Stalinism

Jacqui Smith isn’t a Stalinist. Oh no. You can tell. Because she said so:

Ms Smith told BBC One's Andrew Marr programme: "There have been a lot of charges thrown around here - the idea that, you know, this is Stalinism, this is a police state. In my book, Stalinism and a police state happens when ministers direct and interfere with specific investigations that the police are carrying out.”
And you know what? She’s right. Stalinism is – in part – what happens when ministers get too involved with the actions of the police. However, sadly for Ms Smith’s argument, Stalinism is also what happens when the police arrest people for the crime of being an opposition politician.

I’ll concede that not everything is known about this case as yet and it is more than possible that more will emerge about Mr Green’s actions – it is possible that he did break the law in some way. But as it stands it looks a lot like Mr Green’s sole crime was being in opposition, and acting as opposition MPs have always acted.

If this was a one off, then I would be less worried about it. But the arrest of an opposition MP seems to be completely in keeping with how our government operates. This isn’t an isolated incident; it seems to be part of an ongoing campaign to reduce civil liberties and suppress debate in this country. We live in a country where you can be imprisoned for 28 days without charge, where you can be arrested for wearing a stupid mask on the streets, where protesting outside Parliament generates the sort of police presence that one might associate with a riot. The government has tried to emasculate Parliament, and is currently trying to put us all on a database, like commodities owned and controlled by the state.

So maybe Jacqui Smith didn’t behave in a Stalinist way over this one incident. But for those who love freedom and our civil liberties, Britain in 2008 is a depressing place to be. It isn’t the individual incidents that make me want to put my head in my hands in despair – Mr Green himself is not the best of MPs, and may yet be proved to have committed a crime. Rather, it is the overall impact that this most egregious of governments is having on the freedoms and civil liberties that have existed, in some cases, for centuries. Green’s arrest is a symptom of a disease within British democracy – and it is a disease that should be concerning everyone within this country.

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