Sorry, Blair, but that is so much phooey
I have a terrible feeling that, if you lift your eyes a few inches to the north, you will have a shock. An intruder has crept into the chaste domain of the comment pages.
I can almost feel his Cheshire cat grin over my shoulder. I can already hear the torrent of drivel seeping down from my columnar next-door neighbour, and I am afraid I want to throw up my figurative window and say, “Oi, Blair, shut it, mate. Some of us down here are trying to talk.”
It may be that there are some hard cases among the readership who agree with me, and who want to take their scissors and cut the article above me out of the paper; not to preserve it, of course, but maybe to use it to clean the frying-pan, or to scrumple up and put in their boots, or just to throw darts at it.
But before you do, may I suggest that you take a moment to shout back at the Prime Minister, as he lectures us there about his plan to take away our 800-year-old freedoms. Never mind that the piece has in fact been written by Alastair Campbell’s patent Blair-o-trash computer program. Blair is responsible, and it is to the Prime Minister that I suggest we all reply.
Without knowing the exact words he is using to justify his actions (I am afraid I haven’t read it yet), I propose that we begin by pointing out that he is the first peacetime prime minister to curtail the right to habeas corpus. He is giving the Home Secretary astonishing powers to decide that you or I may be locked in our homes; that our possessions may be confiscated; that we may be debarred from contact with the outside world; that we may be forbidden from using the internet or the telephone – in a word, that we may be incarcerated.
Under the Bill that went through the Commons last night, the Home Secretary (the chap with the big ears and the white bumfluff beard) will be able to inflict this incarceration indefinitely upon any British person that he suspects – on the basis of we are not allowed to know what evidence – of being involved in “terrorism-related activities”. Above all, he will be able to do this without any obligation to bring that person to trial, and there, I think, he goes too far.
We all agree with the Prime Minister that we face a new and sinister peril in al-Qa’eda. But it is worth pointing out that many British lives were lost every year in the 1980s and 1990s to Irish republican terror – far more than have been lost, since 2001, to the operatives of al-Qa’eda – and it is more than 30 years since we last tried interning IRA suspects.
Why is Mr Blair assuming these astonishing powers now? The Government says it must suspend the right to a trial, because trials would jeopardise the secret telephone intercepts of the security services. That sounds like phooey.
The Tories have offered a sensible compromise, by which a pre-trial judge would hear any sensitive evidence, and decide what needed to be screened out, without prejudicing the fairness of a full trial. Why can’t Blair accept that? As my colleague Richard Shepherd said yesterday in the Commons, there is something deeply un-British about this Bill, something profoundly ignorant of the history of this country and the rights of its people.
Of course terrorist suspects should be rounded up. Of course we should crack down hard on anyone to do with al-Qa’eda. But it must remain an inalienable principle of our law that, if the state has enough evidence to incarcerate someone, then it must have enough evidence to put him on trial.
It is amazing that the Prime Minister, who began as a vaguely Left-wing lawyer, should be stripping the British people of this right. He is casually destroying a key part of our constitutional liberties; and since we have the chance to harangue him, I suggest we now move on, and ask him just what he thinks he is doing with another ancient and valued part of our constitution, namely the Queen.
Tony Blair is Her Majesty’s First Minister, and he claims to be a fervent monarchist. He sees her every week for an audience, which he is said greatly to enjoy. Why on earth, then, have he and his Government been so breathtakingly incompetent in the matter of the wedding between Charles and Camilla?
As far as I understand matters, Her Majesty the Queen has decided not to attend the register office business, because of some hesitancy about whether or not members of the Royal Family may get married in such a service.
Some people witter on about an Act of 1836 that apparently bans civil unions for members of the Royal Family; others seem to think that the wedding is legitimated by Act of 1949. For the past week, chuckling Charlie Falconer has been issuing various reassuring noises about the celebrations, much as he once issued reassuring noises about the surefire success of the Dome.
To cap it all, the poor royals have been forced to abandon their plan to hold the event in Windsor Castle, because that would mean they would have to apply for some kind of special licence, and that would mean the wedding would be open to the entire public, and any of us could go off and get married in the castle for the next three years.
So they have shelved that and gone for the register office, with the Queen forced by the shambles into a kind of boycott. The indignity of it all! The incompetence!
But I don’t blame the courtiers, though they have their faults. I blame Blair and his Government for failing to see that it was their job to make sure that everything went smoothly. I blame him for just not caring enough about our ancient institutions.
There they are, two wonderful aspects of our constitution, the monarchy and habeas corpus, each almost as old as the other, both treated shabbily by New Labour.