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Wednesday, April 26, 2006


I return

I return from my travels, fresh and ready to post, revived by visits to Hamburg, London, Amsterdam and, er, Cambridge.

Even though these trips were for just a few days each, each time I arrived home I felt that I had been away for months. None more so that when I read Blair describe his vision of a future justice system for Britain – a system of guilt by accusation – and Clarke then round on the critics of this system by accusing them of being ‘poisonous’. Had something happened while I was away, had some terrible, unprecedented crime occurred that warranted the reordering of our legal system? Granted, my wallet had been stolen, but given the geography of that event it ought, if anything, send the Dutch into reactionary spasms. Not London politicians.

So, if Blair gets his way we will have a system where those accused of criminal behaviour, but not found guilty, will have a range of legal sanctions imposed on them by the state. And it is ‘poisonous’ to describe this as authoritarian? Well, I suppose that it is a step up on ASBOs, where those accused of non-criminal behaviours have imposed on them a range of legal sanctions.

There is, of course, an element of the press that is poisonous. But it is not the Guardian, the Independent and the Observer. You might think that they are soft and misguided, but poisonous? Not when they sit alongside the Sun, which calls for a war on gypsies and accuses MPs of being ‘traitors’. Not when they sit alongside the Daily Mail and the Daily Express with their xenophobic obsessions. It is telling when a Labour minister rails not against the enemies of equality, of social justice, of intelligent, reasoned democratic discourse, but against newspapers who hold true to these values. And why? Well, the fact is that this Labour government is not left. It is not even liberal. It is at worst authoritarian and sinister. At best, it panders to the empty-headed easy populism of the right-wing tabloids. Pure poison.

Simon Jenkins has a good article in the Guardian where he challenges the Government to meet the standards they demand from the liberal media. Ahistorical hyperbolic comparisons? Inflation and misrepresentation? These are not sins of the media alone, and Clarke ought be taken to task for levelling accusations of wrongdoing by which his colleagues will also be found guilty. Poison? Well by Clarke’s measurement there are plainly poisoners in Government. Unless his ruler is one-eyed.

But at heart this seems like a childish outburst. ‘How dare you call us authoritarian!’ Clarke squeals. Well then, tell us how we should describe the position and policies of the Government on law and order, tell us just how ASBOs fit into a decent, reasonable justice system, tell us why we need ID cards, tell us why terrorism is at once both the most heinous of acts, demanding wholesale revision of the justice system, yet at the same time includes acts and activities so broad as to catch almost any extra-legal demonstration. Tell us why ministers need to power to rewrite legislation ex-democracy, tell us why those found not guilty need to be punished in a modern state.

Or, no, please do not. Clarke is a child, squealing that people are against him. And he is a bully, accusing those who call him on his authoritarianism of being ‘poisonous’. It seems that he wants to import the vicious anti-left, anti-liberal politics of the United States. Labour, throwing the country to the right. And worst of all, Clarke appears to be either a compulsive liar or a minister with no grasp of the affairs of his office. Poisonous.


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