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.