The sorry state of British liberty


The Blair government had a sense of mission. They believed that the government had lost touch with the people, and that the country's problems required strong leadership to sort out. They were fully prepared to accumulate executive power in order to sort out these problems. Institutions that slowed them down or got in the way - the media, parliament, the cabinet, the judiciary - they saw as part of the problem, to be sapped or sidelined. Since they were in tune with the people and knew what the people wanted, they were unapologetic about scrapping institutions, re-writing the constitution, or diluting principles such as trial by jury, double jeopardy or habeas corpus. The perceived threat of terrorism simply strengthened their belief that they had to breach through the old institutional and legal barriers.

Hence it is that we find, some years later, that information on us is recorded and shared with countless American authorities; that scores of officials can enter our homes quite legally; that we can be spot-fined by the local litter warden and arrested for any offence, however minor; and held under anti-terrorist legislation when we shout insults at the Home Secretary.

Do not expect government politicians to show embarrassment for any of this. They fully endorse it all as necessary to achieve what we, the public, demand of them.

That is, of course, at odds with the liberal principle that I subscribe to, which sees government power as the main threat to our liberties, rather than their main defender. The only question is whether, with the traditional barriers against government power now trampled underfoot, any other set of politicians is likely to be able to raise them once again – or indeed would want to.