MPs object to police state

Dgreen An inter­est­ing polit­ical row has erup­ted this week in the UK about the arrest of the oppos­i­tion Tory MP, Damien Green, who is also the Shadow Min­is­ter for Immig­ra­tion.  He was arres­ted on Thursday for alleged breaches of an obscure com­mon law  “aid­ing and abet­ting mis­con­duct in pub­lic office”.

Reports indic­ate that the Met­ro­pol­itan Police Spe­cial Branch, or as the news­pa­pers would have it the “anti-terrorism branch” was called in to invest­ig­ate leaks from the Home Office about immig­ra­tion policy, that Green was using these leaks to score points off the gov­ern­ment, and the Home Sec­ret­ary Jac­qui Smith in particular.

Nat­ur­ally, MPs from both sides of the House have been froth­ing at the mouth:  how dare Plod embar­rass an MP by arrest­ing him without warn­ing and by con­duct­ing co-ordinated searches of his homes and offices in both Kent and Lon­don?  News­pa­pers, par­tic­u­larly on the right of the polit­ical spec­trum, have been full of head­lines say­ing that this is proof that we are liv­ing in a police state.

While I have some sym­pathy for the belea­guered Mr Green, hav­ing also been hauled off by the Met Spe­cial Branch and quizzed for hours for dis­cuss­ing sens­it­ive inform­a­tion that was very much in the pub­lic interest, as well as see­ing my home ripped apart in a co-ordinated counter-terrorism style raid and seen friends arres­ted in co-ordinated dawn raids, I am still aghast at the hypo­crisy of both the politi­cians’ and media’s reaction.

Many of us are already all to pain­fully aware that we live in a de facto police state.  Under the notori­ous Sec­tion 44 of the 2000 Ter­ror­ism Act, we can all be stopped and searched for no reason — and can even be arres­ted purely so that a bobby on the beat can ascer­tain our iden­tity.  Notices to this effect are now help­fully pinned up out­side most tube sta­tions in Lon­don.  Thou­sands of people are sub­ject to this across the UK every year on the streets of Britain.

But other points rather leap to my atten­tion from the cov­er­age of this case.  If MPs don’t like the heavy-handed use and abuse of police powers, why did they pass these laws in the first place?  Did they not think through the implic­a­tions?  Or do they think that, as MPs, they are some­how above the laws of this land?

Plus, senior MPs are arguing that the use of leaks from dis­gruntled civil ser­vants is a time-honoured way for HM Oppos­i­tion in Par­lia­ment to hold the gov­ern­ment to account.  Well, that might be good for the MPs’ par­lia­ment­ary careers, but what of the hap­less and fre­quently brave souls within the Civil Ser­vice who face 2 years in prison for such leaks if they are con­victed of a breach of the 1989 Offi­cial Secrets Act?  And, of course, there is no legal defense under the OSA of hav­ing acted “in the pub­lic interest” — the very argu­ment that MPs are using to jus­tify Green’s expos­ure of Home Office cover-ups and incompetence. 

As far as I can see, there have been no com­ments from either journ­al­ists or MPs about the fate of the source.    The most I could find was the fol­low­ing in the Daily Tele­graph:

An alleged “whis­tleblower”, thought to be a male Home Office offi­cial was arres­ted 10 days ago.”

Either that means that journ­al­ists and MPs couldn’t give a toss about the fate of this per­son — after all, an MP’s career is far more import­ant — or that any report­ing of the arrest of the whis­tleblower has been injunc­ted in the media to the nth degree.  This would be even more troub­ling, as someone can just be “dis­ap­peared” into a Kafka-esque legal nightmare.