Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Liberticidal Hat Trick

A fair proportion of the Militant Pine Marten's readers land here while looking for information on actual pine martens, only to be disappointed by the lack of focus on mustelid natural history. Just this once, I'm going to give make their visit worthwhile by giving them a world exclusive on the UK's population of pine martens. Here's the scoop: they're all going to leave this Sceptred Isle. They're not going to be eradicated by pollution or persecution, and although loss of habitat doesn't make life any easier for British pine martens, there's enough old pine forest left for a population to survive here if they want to. But pine martens don't just need suitable habitat, food and indulgent gamekeepers, they need freedom too. They don't take kindly to being caged up and they're bolshie animals. So they could survive here if they wanted to, but the word on the forest floor is that they're not actually certain that they want to any more, and they're considering emigrating to Canada where all the material conditions for mustelid happiness are met and the government isn't quite so zealous on curtailing individual freedoms.

In the past two days, the House of Commons has passed two liberticidal bills, and they'll be trying for a hat trick today. On Monday, appeased by what must be one of the weakest government concessions to avert a defeat in the Commons ever, MPs voted in favour of the introduction of ID Cards but more importantly of the associated database's creation. Many MPs were opposed to making ID cards compulsory, but were apparently fooled by the sop that they would only be compulsory for people who wanted passports. Since about 90% of the UK population have passports, this "concession" still makes ID cards pretty close to compulsory. Even MPs aren't by and large so stupid as to not realise this, which suggests that amongst potential Labour rebels, they were glad of the opportunity to claim to have made a stand for civil liberties whilst simultaneously not antagonising the government. There's a place for that sort of face-saving ploy, and it's not when voting on bills that will fundamentally redefine the balance of power between the Citizen and the State. This was a shameful display of collective spinelessness.

Possibly to reward MPs for their compliance, yesterday the government allowed a free vote on its' proposal to outlaw smoking in public places. Now obviously telling people that the entire country has become a no smoking area isn't on the same level as recording everyone's fingerprints and iris patterns, but it does fit well within the Blair government's well-established predilection for generally forbidding people from doing things that they took for granted before. The MPs' choice was really quite remarkable. They could have chosen to allow people to light up in a few selected smokers' reservations such as pubs that don't serve food and private members' clubs (surely the whole reason for the existence of a private members' club is that you can choose who joins and make up your own arcane rules?), but no, they thought it would be better for us all if no-one could light up anywhere outside their homes any more. That's indicative not merely of a justifiable concern for public health, but also of a level of puritanical authoritarianism and haughty disregard for people's ability to make informed choices for themselves. There are after all greater evils that having a smoke in the pub.

One such evil is, according to Gordon Brown, "glorifying terrorism". Now the Militant Pine Marten has already covered this in some detail back when the idea was first mooted just under a year ago. To summarise, it's a bad idea because "glorifying terrorism" is legally very similar to "openly approving of people, organisations or movements that the government doesn't", or put more succinctly "sedition". The Lords have already rejected this new offence for this very reason, so why is it suddenly back on the table? Because Gordon Brown is doing a Sarkozy and is preparing to become Caliph instead of the Caliph, and so he has decided that he too needs to engage in some macho political one-upmanship, and at the moment that means being even tougher on terrorism while draping himself in the rhetorical Union Jack. Obviously there must still be people out there who believe that terrorism is legal in the UK.

Blair and his government started on this path in 1997 by showing a blatant disregard for parliament, for due process, for the so-called gentlemen's agreement that passes for a British constitution. This led to systematic small abuses of power, loss of accountability, institutionalised contempt for anyone outside Blair's inner circle. Blair's growing messianic zeal and personal belief that if he thinks that something is right, it is, and therefore those who disagree are in effect political blasphemers, has led us into the Iraq war and now seriously threatens our liberties, and we're finding that there isn't much that we can do about it. But what's even worse is that most of the electorate doesn't even seem to care. On Monday, only 70 people demonstrated against ID cards outside Parliament (some distance away because the government banned protests outside parliament following the messy looking protests against the foxhunting ban, which just projected the wrong image or something). Now I know that people are at work on Mondays but where for example are all the politically-minded students? And I'm prepared to bet that the Tories, who are finally shaping up to look like a real opposition party, won't include anything about repealing ID cards in their manifesto because there are no votes to be won in civil liberties. Let's hope that it all turns out to have been worth it. In exchange for all this, let's hope that we really are very safe indeed. In fact we'd better be invulnerable to any harm. Because otherwise we'll be no better off than the Syrians, and at least they have good weather and can have a cigarette where they choose.

So long, and thanks for all the bird's eggs.

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