Monday, February 27, 2006

You've not convinced me, Mr Blair

And now for that Tony Blair article. He's added a couple of paragraphs since yesterday, but it's still a big pile of balderdash. His claims are two-fold. First - the 'right' are conspiring to make Labour look authoritarian now they can't attack them for being socialist:

The reason right wingers are keen on this is clear. New Labour has eschewed traditional forms of leftist statism. So the type of claim they used to make about the Attlee or Wilson governments they can't plausibly make about us.

And second - the world has become more dangerous and we don't now have the luxury of piffling things like freedom of speech and civil liberties:

Here, we must put a new case about liberty in the modern world.... the 'rules' are becoming harder to enforce.... For me, this is not an issue of liberty but of modernity... In theory, traditional court processes and attitudes to civil liberties could work. But the modern world is different from the world for which these court processes were designed.

I've already examined the first claim in another blog post. Nationalising industries was never all that Labour stood for and most of the ideological baggage remains. That ideological baggage includes a focus on the rights of the many and not the few. Tony Blair writes:

The question is not one of individual liberty vs the state but of which approach best guarantees most liberty for the largest number of people.

If you define 'the right' as a group focused on individual freedom rather than collective action then he's right - nationalisation is no longer the primary critique of a Labour government. But it's a straight clash of ideologies not just political point-scoring. Tone thinks otherwise and evidences his numerous sacrifices on the altar of citizen power.

But first, the true record. This government has introduced the Human Rights Act, so that, for the first time, a citizen can challenge the power of the state solely on the basis of an infringement of human rights...

... and 'has regretted it ever since since it's impeded our anti-terror and asylum legislation'. He didn't add that? What a surprise!

and the Freedom of Information Act, the most open thing any British government has done since the Reform Acts of the 1830s.

I'm happy to concede him that (for the moment) - he didn't need to pass this act. But in terms of real disclosure, there are telling exemptions, namely 'qualified exemptions mean the public body... has to judge whether the "public interest" in keeping something secret outweighs that in disclosing it... Others are vaguely worded - one exemption covers material relating to "the formulation of government policy" - leading critics to predict the legislation won't be as open as people hope.' And IIRC Anthony Sampson was pretty scathing about how much difference has been made.

We have... restricted the Prime Minister's right to nominate to the House of Lords.

I don't know how Tone's claiming that - the BBC website says about the current composition of the HofL 'the majority of those left in place are also not elected, known as life peers, they are appointed by the prime minister, in the name of the Queen.' Admittedly the intended reforms were never completed because of the HofC was unable to settle on a solution but even if the government had got its way - 'the government remained committed to a largely appointed chamber' and 'Mr Blair has come under repeated fire for "cronyism" in his appointment of peers'. So was the reform of the HofL really about democracy and accountability? Or was it about traditional class war? History may suggest the latter.

Tone argues how open and accountable he is:

As for parliament, I have spent proportionately more time answering questions than any predecessor; given more statements; am the only PM ever to agree to appear before the select committee chairs; the only one to give monthly press conferences. And I gave a vote specifically on whether to go to war.

At least two of those are completely invalid as evidence of a commitment to democracy - 'given more statements' and 'monthly press conferences' are about spin and not accountability. Answering questions and appearing before select committee chairs may encourage openness, depending on how you're answering the questions. But the vote on Iraq was taken with a large commons majority and against a backdrop of major public scepticism. Does that make you a passionate advocate for parliamentary government? Or just a canny politician?

So how does Tone defend his ideology? Well, this is where the second part of his argument comes in.

am from the generation that I would characterise, crudely, as hard on behaviour, but soft on lifestyle, i.e. I support tough measures on crime but am totally pro gay rights.

This is consistent with my long post about Labour - he's defending oppressed groups but not individuals. So this is about ideology, not fact. But Tony would like it to be about fact:

But the 'rules' are becoming harder to enforce. Antisocial behaviour isn't susceptible to normal court process.

Because people never littered, spat or otherwise behaved badly before 1997... Or committed violent organised crime:

Modern organised crime is really ugly, with groups, often from overseas, frequently prepared to use horrific violence.

So given the world is more dangerous than it ever was in any historical period in the past:

traditional court processes and attitudes to civil liberties could work. But the modern world is different from the world for which these court processes were designed.

Example - Trial by Jury. This is a namby-pamby bit of court process, unsuitable for the dangers and rigors of the modern world. Because Britain was such a peaceful place in 1215 (and that's only when it was enshrined in law) where everyone grew ickle flowers and kissed bunny rabbits to sleep. Family ties were incredibly strong, there was no upheaval, no violence. It was idyllic. You can tell Mr Blair didn't read history at university...

People should be prevented from glorifying terrorism. You can say it is a breach of the right to free speech but in the real world, people get hurt when organisations encourage hatred.

So:

  • There is no legislation currently to prevent people inciting violence
  • Saying nasty things produces violence in the absence of any other contributory factors
  • Stopping people saying nasty things immediately stops people thinking them
  • Legislation is only going to be used in the exact circumstances Mr Blair is thinking of and nowhere else
  • It's very straightforward to define what is 'freedom fighting' and what is 'terrorism'
  • Banning groups immediately stops them existing
  • No group can restart up under a different name once it's been banned...

No? May I humbly suggest, Mr Blair, that it is not 'a refusal to understand the modern world' that drives your critics but a genuine difference of opinion driven by a hint of pragmatism and common sense. Likewise:

On ID cards, there is a host of arguments, irrespective of security, why their time has come. Most people already have a range of different cards, for workplace, bank or leisure. And, contrary to what is said, it will not be an offence not to carry one.

It may not be compulsory to carry one, but you won't be able to get a passport otherwise... People may hold a range of different cards, but they don't potentially cost up to £300, contain biometric info or be held on a centralised government database (which is bound to go wrong or overspend as have other government computer systems).

In summary - if it looks like an authoritarian... and it sounds like an authoritarian... then it probably is an authoritarian. You've not convinced me, Mr Blair.

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