Peter Hough

Peter Hough
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Thursday, 27 January 2011

Is it a posh Tory cocktail, or a step in the right direction?

The Coalition is proposing changes to Labour's counter-terrorism laws, under the heading: Terrorism Prevention and Investigatory Measures, or 'T-Pim'. To me this sounds like a posh Tory cocktail.

You can imagine Theresa May ordering drinks at the tennis club (I apologise to members of tennis clubs who aren't posh Tories, or who aren't Tories at all): "Waiter, I'll have a T-Pim with a slice of lemon and a cherry on a stick, please."

On a more serious note, the changes do dilute Labour's draconian measures that saw some innocent individuals kept under house arrest for weeks when there was no evidence against them. Under Labour, terrorism suspects could be held without charge for 28 days. Blair wanted to increase it to ninety. The Coalition think that 14 days is enough while police search for evidence.

Labour introduced control orders to restrict the freedom of suspects who could not be charged because no evidence could be found. These involved relocation to another part of the country, electronic tagging, 16 hour curfews, restrictions of movement and  banning them from using mobile phones and the internet.

Ministers say that the new system will allow more liberties while maintaining the ability of the security services to monitor suspects. They will not be relocated, will still be tagged, but will only be required to stay at home overnight for a maximum of10 hours. They will be allowed restricted use of mobile phones and the internet.

Labour's Yvette Cooper calls this a 'fudge', because we would have liked to have relaxed the rules even further. It's not a fudge, it's a compromise, it's grown up politics where two parties working together don't get all their own way. That's coalition politics. Some people still can't get their head around it. Our involvement in government has marginalised the Tory right wing, and has enabled 65% of LibDem policies to be enacted.

Let's also not forget that Labour spent thirteen years eroding our civil liberties. Now they're in denial: "It wasn't us, Guv!"

We saw tourists accosted by police for taking photographs of buildings in London, our security services complicit in torture, and a man arrested across from Downing Street for reading out the names of the British war-dead in Iraq. We also saw a law to stop people demonstrating peacefully outside the headquarters of multinational companies, if it would harm their businesses (trade unionists take note).

I'm not a softy when it comes to terrorism, but at least let's have a system that get's the right people. Whatever happened to 'innocent until proved guilty' ? Many people have sounded off about things in the pub, and made threats that in reality they would never carry out - but they haven't all then had their homes searched and been arrested without charge, and incarcerated without trial. 

Lord MacDonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions admitted Labour had over-reacted to the terrorist threat. He said the country had sacrificed "traditional ideals" of freedom in the fight against terrorism, and British institutions became a "symbol of hypocrisy".

Admittedly, it's a tight rope, but let's not throw away freedom of speech and other hard fought for civil liberties along with the bath water.

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