The importance of civil liberties

Almost every right we have today is derived from Magna Carta in 1215
Almost every right we have today is derived from Magna Carta in 1215

According to David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, fears about civil liberties were "airy fairy" nonsense.

According to David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, fears about civil liberties were "airy fairy" nonsense. In almost identical language, David Cameron attacked concerns over the extent of mass surveillance as ‘"la-di-da, airy-fairy". It was all so very different before Cameron took power.

In 2009, in a speech at Imperial College he passionately declared that: "The action we take to rein in Labour’s control state and confront Labour’s surveillance state will help re-balance power in one direction by enhancing personal freedom and limiting the state’s power over us."

Fine words. But then the securocrats took over.

The barons of King John’s reign were hardly nature’s liberals. But, in 1215, they forced the king to sign Magna Carta. Virtually every right, from “due process of law,” the right of trial by jury, habeas corpus, and the right to a free trial without arbitrary punishment can be found either explicitly or by inference in Magna Carta.

The policies of Chris Grayling, the "Justice" Secretary and the prison-book banner, run contrary to Magna Carta’s pledge that everyone shall have access to courts and that costs and money should not be an issue. The slashing of legal aid has left whole areas - clinical negligence, person injury, employment, immigration, social security - as legal aid deserts

Under the pretext of fighting terrorism, civil liberties are again under attack, 1984 style. Al-Qaeda is our enemy in Britain, but in Libya and Syria he is our friend! The moral is to keep out of others’ affairs.

When Edward Snowden revealed the extent of domestic spying, he was accused of endangering national security. David Miranda, partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the Snowden story, was held at Heathrow under terrorism legislation, before being freed without charge. The High Court duly prostrated itself at the mere mention of "national security".

Snowden, an ex-member of the CIA, realised that spying on people’s sexual habits had nothing to do with "terrorism".

The American people, however, still understand what liberty means. Obama was forced to end the mass surveillance of the population. Nobody should suppose for a minute that British surveillance has anything more to do with saving lives.

William Hague, a man devoid of a single original thought, informs us that if you have done nothing wrong, you have got nothing to hide. This is the mantra of dictators throughout the ages. The government and police, however, are loath to lead by example.

It is not true, of course. Workers blacklisted by employers for asserting their rights have done nothing wrong but face permanent unemployment. Despite blacklists being illegal, the big building companies were supplied with confidential information by the police.

When Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993 by white racists, the police were given the names of the murderers the next day, by an informant; the police did nothing for the first two days, the most crucial period of a murder inquiry.

I attended the Macpherson Inquiry in 1998. It branded the Metropolitan Police institutionally racist, whereas I would say they are institutionally corrupt.

Many were the promises Commissioner Paul Condon made that what happened was in the past and the Met had turned over a new leaf. We now know, thanks to Mark Ellison QC’s report, that - at the very same time - a police spy, Peter Francis, masquerading as a family liaison officer, was part of a unit given the task of attempting to smear the Lawrence family and anti-racist activists.

At the same time as Condon was dissimulating, a police spy in the Lawrence household, N81, was meeting Commander Richard Walton, who was preparing the Met’s submission to the MacPherson Inquiry. Instead of instant dismissal, he was "temporarily removed from his post".

The Met set up a Special Demonstration Squad, whose purpose was to infiltrate protest movements and encourage activists to break the law in order to put them away. They led by example. In the process, the spies had sexual relations and families under false pretences. Radical protest movements like Occupy were targeted.

It speaks volumes about police neutrality that no police force ever thought of spying on the targets of Occupy - the tax evaders who defraud the taxman.

And then there is Othona Inquiry into police corruption. A lorry-load of files were deliberately destroyed. In the Metropolitan Police, this is just another day.

No wonder that Cameron wants to scrap the Human Rights Act.