Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Friday, 28 November 2008

This Is Not A Rant. But The Arrest Of Damian Green Should Keep Us Awake At Night.

OK, so I've come down from the ceiling after the arrest of Damian Green and I'm trying to analyse what it means and where it might take us. I'm not going to rant or shout, I'm just going to describe my conclusions now that I've tried to think it through. And I tell you, it leaves me cold. It scares me like nothing else Brown or Blair have ever done.

I suppose I should start by admitting that, like most other people, I don't know all the facts and yes, it's conceivable that something might come out which renders defence of Mr Green untenable. But I doubt it. The extent to which Conservatives are clearly furious tells me that his behaviour is no different from what opposition ministers (including Gordon Brown) have done for years.

To set the scene, then. It's part of a shadow minister's job to unearth facts about the government's performance it would rather have kept quiet. On that score, Green has been doing a reasonable job (although you might think, given what we know about the efficiency of the Home Office, that there must be a hell of a lot of skeletons left in cupboards he hasn't yet opened).

What he's come up with, while embarrassing for the government, isn't exactly earth shattering: the news that an illegal immigrant was working in the House of Commons as a cleaner is hardly a threat to national security.

He's been using techniques employed since the dawn of politics to get at the government; find an insider who knows the score about various cock-ups and publicise what they tell you. Result: discomfort for the government, perhaps a few votes float from one side to the other and, in some cases one would hope, changes in procedure and behaviour to make sure that improvements take place in government machinery.

Leaking of this sort within government is healthy on a number of counts: keeps ministers and officials on their toes and on the look-out for poor practice, lest it "get out"; gives the public an insight into how things really happen and how our money is spent; helps the opposition hold the government to account; I've described above, it has the potential to improve how things are done.

The reason the events of yesterday sent a shiver down my spine was that they appear to represent an attempt by the government to legitimise increased secrecy, to defend incompetence and to strengthen their already not inconsiderable power base.

Not only that, but they've done it in a way which is, it seems, specifically designed to inspire shock and fear throughout public sector employees and, more importantly, journalists and opposition MPs. To send nine counter-terrorism officers round to arrest one man is an appalling abuse of power in itself.

Let's not prat about here. The government is behind the arrest of Damian Green. Anyone who believes that none of them knew this was coming needs their head examining. It quite simply defies belief that no one in Jacqui Smith's ministerial team had prior knowledge. As acts of political brutality go in this country, this was deeply sickening.

The message it quite deliberately sends out is this: unearth stuff we don't want you to find and we'll have you; tell the people what we don't want them being told and you're ours for the taking; ask the questions we don't want asking and we'll turn you, your world, your family and, for that matter, your home and office upside down.

This is not the behaviour of an administration that believes in freedom or is prepared to stand up for it. Instead it is the behaviour of a government which is rotten to its very core, is chock-a-block full of its own self-importance, lacks the intellectual integrity to accept that it can be challenged, and which believes its own propaganda to such an extent that everything else must be suppressed.

Many blogs have today made comparisons with Zimbabwe, this one included. Whilst Zimbabwe may be further down the line in its erosion of democracy and free debate, the parallel has an element of truth about it. Elsewhere it has been claimed that today marks the death of freedom in this country. I hope with all my heart that the prognosis is wrong, but try as I might I cannot escape the view that our whole standing as a liberal democracy is, at the very best, under serious threat. This marks a dark, dark day in our history. Whether we come out the other side of this with our freedoms in tact now depends in part on the strength and courage of Her Majesty's Opposition and, God help us, on the Press. They can either give in to the bullying and the threats or they can stand up and be counted. In no small part, our future lies in their hands.

It is, perhaps, the ultimate irony about this government that after so many people have got away with telling us so many lies about Iraq, immigration, the economy et al that someone should get arrested for telling the truth. Let that be the epitaph of ZaNu Labour.

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