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Wednesday, November 09, 2005


In them we must trust

We must trust the police, says Tony Blair. If the police say that they need new powers, then we must give them those powers. They are professionals, and thus they know best. Therefore, we must give the police the power to detain people for 90 days.

I could use this post to damn the politicians who counter accusations of there being a lack of democratic argument by saying, “if you had seen the dossier I have seen…”, or “if you were at the meeting that I was at…”. I saw Hazel Blears, I think, say to a journalist, “you obviously weren’t at the meeting we had with the security services…”. No, Hazel, obviously not. And when decisions are made out of sight they are not democratic decisions. They might be made in the interests of the people, but we cannot assess whether this is the case, nor even if we accept that a decision has been made in the interests of the people that it was a good decision. But that is as much damning of that aspect of the case for control orders.

Now, I could use this thread to list miscarriages of justice. I need not separate between mistakes and malign conspiracy, as both of these sources of injustice would find new outlets with new powers. And such an argumentative move, though persuasive, would hold for any new powers the government might propose. But it does need to be borne in mind, for the issue here is government by trust.

The first aspect of this is that we must trust the police and give them the powers that they ask for. Is that really the case? Can Tony Blair or any of his cheerleaders imagine a scenario where they would act against the advice of the police? I am not asking for whacked-out scenarios, but rather ones consistent with the society and history we inhabit. If they cannot imagine a scenario where a government would, or ought to, act against the advice of the police, then not only are our governing politicians hopelessly naïve, we already have a police state. It might be benign, but if the police get what they want – whether through unworldly trust, misinformation or through fear – then they are ultimately the governing class.

But this is not the case, merely the logical end of Blair’s argument that decisions made in secret by people with great power must be accepted on trust. Of course, granting Blair and his supporters some measure of normal human intelligence and accepting that they are not delusional, I must expect that, were they honest, they would be able to point out occasions where they [would] have gone against the advice of the police. They would, if they were honest, accept that trust is simply not enough, it cannot be, and there must also be argument. But the argument is not made. Rather, we are asked to trust professionals (note that this government is not so happy to trust teachers or doctors or lawyers) who have a collective interest in the increase of their powers. Democracy indeed.

The second aspect of this rhetorical demand for trust in the police is that it undermines the safeguards we are promised, or mollified by, in the revised versions of this legislation. A judge will oversee the detention every 7 days. There are several problems with this. We will skip over the fact that the evidence the police will be presenting will necessarily be short of the quality that would be required in order to press charges, and we will not ask just how a judge is meant to assess the need for detention based on such scanty evidence. We will not spend any space discussing the fact that the detained (most definitely not ‘the accused’) has no opportunity to challenge his justification for detention. No, the problem here is that the demand explicit in this legislation is that the police must be trusted. How could any judge refuse a request from the police for a person to be held detention?

They must accept it, don’t you ‘get it’? The world has changed. Our security services are the brave men and women protecting us from evil as we sleep. They must be trusted implicitly. Oversight? Impossible in an atmosphere for trust.

By all means trust them. I suggest that we all trust Ian ‘destroy the brain, utterly, instantly’ Blair. A proven, professional liar. Now suggesting that he needs to power to detain people without charge, without the right to challenge the ‘evidence’ against them not for 90 days but for 4 months.

Hurrah! For once, Andrew, I agree with the general thrust of your remarks, especially, "note that this government is not so happy to trust teachers or doctors or lawyers". Quite so, and long may it continue.
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