Bloody hell, what a weekend. Anyway, enough about me: the following palaver has been a short-lived media circus, a trapeze of terror, if you will.The Sun, would you believe it, is not keen on more draconian police powers… What does this say – that the politics of fear game has gone far enough for the ruling class? (My apologies for the lack of quality, it has been dashed off and I am wrecked.)
You want wartime measures in peacetime?
The latest round of anti-terror legislation could include granting police to stop and search people if they have “reasonable suspicion” that they have been or will be involved in the commission of criminal activities. So, we’re back to the sus laws, are we?
This new terror bill was trailed in an article in the Observer by Tony Blair – you know, the man who supported the imperialist wars that have led to the terror threat. He may have started the fire, but he has no hope of putting it out.
The threat exists but is overstated: what is supposedly the most serious threat to national security since the Second World War has been relatively easy to deal with has it not? The police and security forces have intervened to disrupt several supposed plots, some of which have been less than credible and have been directed at the armed forces rather than the civilian population. The police are afforded a lot of power by previous anti-terror legislation, and they have not requested further stop and search powers.
Unlike the mainland bombing campaigns by the Provisional IRA, there is not organisational coherence. If there is a branch of Al Qaeda in the UK, it is not on the strength of the erstwhile PIRA. So far there has been one attack: the London tube bombings of July 7, 2005 which killed fifty-two people. A trial is ongoing regarding the events of July 21, which may turn out to have been a second attempted attack, though the defendants claim is was merely a stunt to protest the occupation of Iraq.
Think of a number
Last year’s row over legislation that would have introduced ninety day detention for suspects arrested in connection with alleged terrorism activities revealed the truth about the police demand for more powers. Firstly, the police could offer parliament no evidence that they required a ninety day detention and secondly, it turned out that the number of days was completely unconnected to operational needs.
Met Commissioner Sir Ian Blair (no relation) revealed that they could have asked for a hundred and twenty days! There was little disappointment when the compromise was a doubling of the existing time police can hold terror suspects, from fourteen to twenty-eight days, and Blair the politician signalled his government would attempt to get three-months at a later date. Blair the policeman still holds out for the magic number of ninety days and has intimated that internment (indefinite detention without trial) could be brought in if there was another 7/7.
It is hard to know how seriously we should take the proposals for extending stop and search. There has been some suggestion that New Labour is goading the Tories into opposing the anti-terrorism bill so they can portray Cameron’s Conservatives as soft on security issues come election time. If true, this is a highly risky strategy: in Spain, José Maria Aznar’s government lost power in 2004 when Eta was blamed for the Madrid bombings. What I am saying is, it is unwise to play party political games with the issue of national security – it can backfire. Blair is to leave going mid-term largely as a result of the lies that led to the invasion of Iraq.
Perhaps this is Blair’s last attempt to tie Brown to the “global war on terrorism” discourse, suspecting that the grand narrative will be dropped by his successor and a more pragmatic approach to describing world affairs adopted. Hillary Benn, the development secretary, let slip a few months ago that the government no longer referred the open-ended wars of Anglo-American imperialism since 2001 as a war on terror because it is counterproductive.
“I’m watching you, Fletcher!”
John Reid is going along with Blair when Gordon Brown assumes the role of Prime Minister in July. This is his last throw of the dice, and an attempt to cover for the loss of three terror suspects who were subject to control orders. These supposedly dangerous men were apparently not being monitored by the police – despite having freedom of movement. They have been convicted of no crime, other than breaching the control orders by failing to report to the police station.
Reid found an opening after the men, who are said to be intending to carry out attacks against British armed forces stationed in either Iraq or Afghanistan, went on the run last week. Making use of a statement to the press on the matter to highlight the need for more anti-terrorism legislation and yet more restrictions on civil liberties, Reid demonstrated New Labour’s penchant for crass opportunism. His predecessor as Home Secretary, Charles Clarke was not better than Reid, but at least he did not use the 7/7 bombings to justify the planned introduction of ID cards.
In a way, I will be sad to see Reid go. Though he is a bastard, he always makes me laugh. With his comical tough-guy mannerisms that put me in mind of Mister Mackay, the prison warden from classic seventies sit-com Porridge, he will cock his head and flick his cuffs as if he is squaring up for a fight. Despite his rhetoric, he has been unable to do anything particularly tough, and could be stepping down before the shit hits the fan over the division of the Home Office.
In his youth (actually, well into his thirties) Dr John Reid was a Marxist and a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Perhaps it would be better to say that he was a Stalinist – it is a term he used himself at the time, I believe. His doctoral thesis was a Marxist interpretation of the economic development of Benin (at the time, it was known as Dahomey), and it seems odd that he still uses the title since he is now pro-capitalist. For all his posing, I’m sure his old idol Stalin would have purged him by now: Reid is not the tough guy he makes out.
A bit of culture
That Blair chose to announce plans for new anti-terror legislation in the pages of a national newspaper instead of in parliament should not surprise us now. But after ten years of “perception management” it is disingenuous for cabinet minister and deputy leadership contender Harriet Harman to call for an end to the “culture of spin”. She, along with everyone else with a brain, realises that the proposed laws will alarm ethnic minorities and Muslims in particular and if implemented will be used mainly against people of colour.
What her criticisms of Blair reveal is that without its charismatic leader New Labour might experience serious divisions. Northern Ireland secretary and fellow deputy leadership candidate Peter Hain has called for a restriction of private sector involvement in the NHS, responding to demands from below. He too was critical of any new police powers, fearful of creating an internal Guantanamo Bay – an allusion to the policy of internment that was introduced during the war in Ireland.
The deputy leadership campaign has swung leftwards. Alan Johnson, education secretary, has called for private schools to help out the public sector and called Margaret Hodge on her BNP-style talk. Expect more of this from the other players – Except Hazel Blears – because they are trying to get elected by party activists and trade unionists, who aren’t terribly interested in more privatisation and giving tax cuts to the super-rich.
We can’t work it out
The challenge to the party leadership by John McDonnell was unsuccessful because of the careerist nature of the Parliamentary Labour Party, but also because of the disunity of the left of the party. That the left fizzled out so early on demonstrates that the radical presence of the past is fast ebbing away.
I am not sure the terms “soft left” and “hard left” are particularly helpful in the context of New Labour, but there is a socialist presence in the form of the Campaign Group of Labour MPs and less overtly socialist MPs who are perhaps more demoralised and disorganised than the “hard left”. Jon Cruddas, an ex-Blairite former cabinet minister who supported the Iraq war is being backed by the unions: he had support from the big boys early on, as he is something of a lightweight. The McDonnell campaign is not backing him, despite Cruddas being the closest politically of the six deputy leadership candidates because he backed Brown instead of McDonnell.
Cruddas has managed to raise some interesting points – on declining party membership and on housing and racism – but he does not offer a grand narrative. He has said that there needs to be a return to class politics, but this obviously does not mean that Labour should in future advocate working class rule…
It would be a welcome development if the issue of privatisation of the public sector, the NHS in particular, became articulated as a bone of contention rather than as a manufactured consensus. The deputy leadership contest may be so dull that I have trouble staying awake as I type this, but it is worth following if only to see how far left the competition drives the dirty half dozen. Cruddas has come out for the Bolivarian Revolution, will Peter Hain come out in support of the Iraqi resistance?