We’ve all been made criminals

Dr Eamonn Butler explores how the long arm of the law is stretching too far in to our lives. He believes that Britain has casually slipped in to a police state in which anybody can be stopped and searched for no good reason.

What’s frustrating about our slide into a police state is that most people haven’t even noticed it, while the rest have actually welcomed it. Sure, 9/11 and the London bombings leave no doubt that terrorism is a real threat. But then the sweeping powers we’ve given our police and politicians to deal with it are an even bigger one.

Ordinary, upright citizens are now spied on, stopped and searched, arrested at gunpoint, DNA-swabbed and criminalised, for no good reason other than that some officer of the state has the power to do it, and is incentivised to do it.

The ink was hardly dry on the Terrorism Act 2000 before it was used to arrest Dundonian Sally Cameron, 34. Her crime wasn’t some conspiracy to blow up Dundee; it was daring to walk along a cycle path. Two squad cars roared up on her and she was carted off to the cells.

Then octogenarian Walter Wolfgang, who had escaped the Nazis and become a Labour activist in Britain, was arrested under the same law for merely heckling Jack Straw at a Labour party conference. That’s the Jack Straw who wrote last week that his party had extended freedoms, not curtailed them.

Really? The Terrorism Act allowed the government to designate areas where the police could stop and search suspects at will. Fine, you might think, if they see people acting suspiciously outside nuclear power stations. But no. Ministers instantly declared the whole of London a stop-and-search area. Now thousands of law-abiding folk are stopped and questioned each year – even a cricketer who was asked to explain why he was carrying a bat, and an 11-year-old girl, stopped and told to empty her pockets.

Another octogenarian, John Catt, was picked up by the cameras that monitor every car going through the City. He was on police files because they’d nabbed him once before – outside the same Labour conference – for wearing a T-shirt saying George W Bush and Tony Blair were war criminals. Could be offensive, they said.

Charlotte Denis, 20, was arrested at a game fair on the same charge. Her “crime” was to wear a “Bollocks to Blair” T-shirt. She refused to remove it, having only a bra underneath, so was nicked.

Researching a book, The Rotten State of Britain, I struggled to work out how we had got into a state that makes criminals of us all. It’s not that politicians want to control our every move. Rather, they demand wide powers to deal with crime, believing they will use these appropriately. But give people power and they use it.

Particularly when they are incentivised to use it. Police commanders can get up to £15,000 in performance bonuses, depending partly on how many people they spot-fine, charge or caution. Officers have monthly targets; they do not want to prevent crime but to make criminals of us.

It’s much easier to pin a criminal record on someone like bus driver Gareth Corkhill for overfilling his wheelie bin, than it is to catch terrorists. And yes, local councils use antiterrorist powers to snoop on us, even for overfilling our bin.

A decade ago the police could arrest us only for serious crimes. Now they can arrest us for anything. Swinton man Keith Hirst, 54, was accused of dropping an apple core, refused to pay a spot fine – you can be fined by police and 1,400 other officials without any legal process – and got cuffed and held for 18 hours in the cells.

You’re not even safe in your home. In the past 12 years, officials have been given 550 powers to enter your house: to check if your pot plants have pests, your hedge is too high, confiscate your fridge if it doesn’t have the right energy rating, and yes, photograph and seize your rubbish. Resist, and it’s a £5,000 fine. Your name, address, and even your DNA will be put on the police database. Even if you’re cleared, you’ll have a fight to get it off. That’s why our DNA database is the world’s biggest.

We’ve done the terrorists’ work for them and surrendered our freedoms. But at least there’s now a debate, like this weekend’s Convention on Modern Liberty. The former MI5 chief Dame Stella Rimington says we now have more to fear from our police state than from terrorism. The information commissioner Richard Thomas complained that the surveillance state was making suspects of us all.

What’s to be done? We need leaders farsighted enough to place limits on their own power. They must revive the independence of parliament, the civil service, the courts, the press and local government as constitutional safeguards against central control.

We need locally elected police chiefs, paid to cut crime rather than harass innocent people; councils that decide and pay for their own priorities, rather than Whitehall’s; the scrapping of spot fines and random searches; and human rights law in favour of due process, with trial by jury, presumption of innocence, habeas corpus and the other ancient rights that protected us from the arbitrary power of our leaders.Then we’d have some hope of making the state our servant again, rather than our master.

Blog Review 885


"First it is now a public policy requirement of the utmost importance that Sir Fred does not surrender any of his pension."

As Robert Bolt pointed out better to give the very Devil himself the benefit of the law for your own sake.

The confusion is a little odd to, as the truth can be found with a judicious application of the help that Mr. Google can provide.

Yet again we see that the Shock Doctrine of Ms. Klein has a problem with it. It just isn't the neo-liberals that employ it.

Once again we see that government spending plans are a day or more late and a dollar or two short.

California has become France and some suggegstions as to what you might want to do about it.

And finally, the most famous chord in rock and roll explained.

Two little things


How do these things happen? You turn your back for 5 minutes and just because the odd bank has fallen over people decide to raise up again two of the more scabrous ideas from the horrors of human history. What is it about testing times that makes people suggest that we give up civilisation?

The first of these little things is the fuss over the pension arrangements for Sir Fred Goodwin. Yes, it's a huge pension, yes he was at the helm when the bank ran aground and no, I'm not all that chuffed with the idea that he'll get just shy of £700,000 a year for life either. But it is a contract. Perhaps it's a contract that shouldn't have been signed, that we wish hadn't been signed, that if there's a legal loophole in it we might exploit such, but as matters stand as I write it's a legal contract which was, amongst others along the way, signed off by a Government Minister.

To repudiate it because the populace, or the more populist of the votestealers in Parliament, desire such is simply the rule of the mob. The antithesis of one of the things that makes up civilisation, the rule of law, the sanctity of contract, call it what you will. We are not and should not be ruled by the whims of men but by the arrangements which we have signed up to beforehand and if we regress from that to doing whatever tricks the jeering crowd would call for inbetween their Hogarthian quaffs of gin and window breaking then we might as well give the whole thing up and go back and live in the trees.

The second is this extremely strange idea about compulsory national volunteering. Leaving aside the oxymoronic nature of the phrase I suppose we can at least use it as proof that there's none so illiberal as liberals imposing their pet schemes upon the hoi polloi. Other than that it's a nonsense, a truly horrendous idea that any civilised being should be ashamed of even considering, let alone publicly advocating.

Whether it's the melanin enhanced being shipped across oceans to pick cotton for Massa, the men of the country being impressed to die in the wars of their elders or the young being forced into servitude to the state by wiping said elders' bottoms there's a very simple reason why such things are repugnant. They're slavery. They are, in the end, the use of the power of the gun to force people to labour as you would wish rather than as they would wish, that they should spend some or all of their lives satisfying your desires rather than their own, something which has no place at all under even the farthest penumbra of a civilised society.

What is it with these people? At the moment it looks like the economy might return us to the living standards of 2006 and the truly pessimistic are suggesting 1990 or even 1980. So the suggestion is that we should regress in moral and legal terms to somewhere around 1800 to compensate? Seriously, what is going on?

Lost liberties


“Our society is based on liberty and democracy. I do not want to see excessive surveillance hardwired into British society." So said Mr Richard Thomas the Information Commissioner for the UK in an article in The Times. His remit is to safeguard privacy and freedom of information, so he spoke out this past week by heavily criticising the fact that data the government has collected can be shared between departments and the private sector and that the communications database ‘risked turning everyone into a suspect’.

In an article on First Post, the author draws a line under the illusion that we have perhaps fallen back on over these past 12 years: that the UK is a bastion of liberty. Indeed, if we look at the past and the comments of Mr Thomas then it is clear we have done little to alter the progression New Labour has made towards a surveillance state. Thankfully though, some have remained stoic in the face of this anti-liberty agenda; Henry Porter is a fine example, and he along with many others has established the Convention on Modern Liberty that meets for the first time this weekend in London. Hopefully this will raise the profile of what we have lost and how we can regain it.

The excuse of terrorism has oft been used by those in power to extinguish our privacy, we should hold this up as short-sighted, short-termist idiocy of our elected tyrants MPs. Their own political survival is what we trade our freedoms for. If we value our freedoms highly then we should rid ourselves of the legislation and of the politicians. Until such a time the state will continue to see us all as being guilty and we can only prove our innocence by succumbing to their unquestioning will.

ISOS: Economic and Social Policy: What Next?


Attracting Sixth form students from across the UK, on Tuesday the 24th February we held the first ISOS of 2009.

Starting the day with a speech about the dangers of the predominant constructivist ideology in European institutions, Westminster City Councilor JP Floru brought strong points against how its continuation could hold back Britain’s economy. Following JP was Douglas Carswell MP, who spoke on his plan to renew Britain in twelve months. He drew excellently upon his influential book co-authored with Dan Hannan on the same subject. 

After the first break, the ASI’s own Dr Eamonn Butler gave a speech on his excellent new book The Rotten State of Britain. Eamonn’s presentation considered how over the past decade New Labour has instituted by stealth a type of government more oppressive, arrogant, and authoritarian than what Margaret Thatcher was ever accused of. Following Eamonn, Kendra Okonski, Communications Director of the International Policy Network discussed with verve how a market-based approach is best suited for protecting the environment.

Jeremy Browne MP spoke superbly after lunch on the recent boom years and whether they were just an illusion. He argued that although the UK’s citizens are better off now than they were, this does not excuse the fact that much of the current financial crisis was caused largely by a government induced credit boom. Steve Rolles’ from Transform was up next tackling the controversial topic of drug reform. He argued convincingly that the legalization of recreational drugs and the medicalization of harder drugs would benefit the country through a lower rate of crime and tax receipts from their sales.

Dr Madsen Pirie spoke next on how to save Britain. The ideas presented were a synthesis of different necessary reforms to rebuild Britain after the recession; if only we had a government radical enough to institute them. Up last was Oxford Professor Martin Cox. He talked consummately on the bailout’s effects on the economy, considering who will pay for it in the end. Sadly the answer was of course the sixth form students listening. 

The Independent Seminar on the Open Society was once again a great success, with thought-provoking speakers and excellent questions from the students for which we are grateful. We would also like to thank Total Politics, Prospect and Standpoint who kindly provided magazines for the students.


Blog Review 884


We really do need to take a closer look at what is being taught in schools. Property is theft?

Obama's making sure that it sure ain't the neo-liberals making use of the "Shock Doctrine".

Governments involve social injustice. They sure do.

Are you ready for pessimism porn?

Back in the days when Paul Krugman was an economist.

What's Greek to you?

And finally, this is what stimulus means.

Royal Mail: the cost of failure


In The Guardian yesterday, Lord Mandleson raised his head above the parapet and set out why the government needs to go ahead with a partial privatization of Royal Mail.

Mandleson is of course right that reform is needed. As he pointed out: “Royal Mail has a pension deficit larger than that of any FTSE 100 company. This deficit was last valued at £3.4bn, but the pension trustees warned this week that it will now be much larger, and even more unsustainable".

Given that this government was elected on a manifesto commitment to keep Royal Mail in public ownership, this compromise sails close to the wind of Labour breaking its promise. For this reason it is probably proper that they have not gone any further than this. Yet in truth it is a band-aid solution to a more fundamental problem, one in which the founding principles of the UK postal service need to be overhauled.

In the same piece, Lord Mandleson made the statement that: “Nobody would disagree that a universal postal service is more than just a business." Well I for one would. The standard argument against true liberalization of the postal service is that it would be costly for those in remote locations. There is some validity to this argument, but more importantly why shouldn’t people pay for the cost of the service they get? A postal service should never be a right that an individual burdens his fellow man with. Indeed, with the rise of competing technologies to post, such arguments will look increasingly anachronistic.

At present we have a socialistic model for our postal service. As such it costs much more than it could and should. Many of the costs are unseen in the price of a stamp, as governments have subsidized Royal Mail at the cost of billions of pounds to the taxpayer. One cannot expect any party to endorse this position, but as with all collectivist failures, history will prove this side of the argument right.

Recycling authoritarianism


In a brilliant review of a number of recently published books on the politics of climate change, Steven F. Hayward considers the radical and apocalyptic concepts contained within them.

The arguments are similar to the ideas expressed by Vaclav Klaus: that many greens are disguised totalitarians. Of course, many leftist greens are recognizing that the present financial crisis could dismantle the policies that they want put into force. As such, to compete their visions are getting worse.

A large number of radical environmentalists are putting forward arguments for the eradication of the human species. This Malthusian panic scenario often spirals from the simple fact that human breathing has a carbon footprint. The argument follows that the earth would be better off if all humankind stopped breathing, and so we have such books as The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.

The greens are re-emerging as full-scale authoritarians. The good news is that these ideologues are running out of new ideas and are now recycling old ones, the problem is that these recycled ideas are the kind that many had hoped the US and Western Europe had put in their dustbins of history.

Brussels Dispatch: Through the looking glass


If you don’t follow what is going on in Brussels, I envy you. The FT carries an astonishing interview this week with Joaquín Almunia, the Spanish European Commissioner for Monetary Affairs. Sadly, Mr. Almunia’s job title is the nearest we get to monetarism. Here is some dirigiste ‘almunition’ with my comments added:

“I’m convinced that financial regulation will be broader [more pervasive] and stronger [more punitive]. The financial system will be more regulated [more bloated parasites living off fewer wealth creators and more coercion in instructing entrepreneurs in what way they are to create wealth - which will then be confiscated by the State anyway].

This will mean less leverage [Mr. Almunia can perhaps take a look at the Member States’ track record of carrying debt larger than their assets, with their off-balance sheet accounting practices which would be illegal for any commercial enterprise, and redirect his cant in a  more needed direction], less flexibility in the financial system [I honestly have no idea what the man is talking about – unless he is ignorant enough to believe that less responsiveness in the financial markets is a good thing], and less influence for the financial system in the aggregated results of our economy [that’s right – he wants less wealth generation in the economy to come from investment]...

Either we accept that our growth will be lower than in the past because the stimulus [obviously, he’s been reading the New York Times too much, the word he really needed was ‘contribution’] from the financial sector will be smaller, or we find more engines of growth in the non-financial side of the economy. [Oh yes, look at all these engines of growth that we never knew existed just turning over happily in the Retezat hinterland. Good old Romania]. 

Never forget, you pay his salary.

Take a look around you, at what little liberty you still possess, O free market, because this is as good as it gets.

But there is one small sector I am still prepared to invest in – the lamppost industry.  Because when the revolution hits the streets we are going to need a lot of them.  Now a Commissioner for Lamppost and Rope Provision – that would fulfil a useful need…