This morning the Guardian reported that this evening's summit in Brussels will likely be the first occasion in which the subject of Tony Blair's candidacy to be Europe's first president is broached.
Having lived under Blair's regime in England for many years, I can say that in many ways he is the embodiment of European politics (and I do not mean that positively). Many Americans are simply unaware of the paradigm constitutional shifts that occurred in Britain during Blair's administration. Yet such awareness ought to be at the forefront of public debate if Blair is indeed going to occupy the position of European president.
When Tony Blair first came to power, he promised to be tough on crime. Only in retrospect could we have understood the reality behind these words. Mr. Blair would indeed be tough on crime, but he would do so by creating thousands of new offenses, eroding hundred year old civil liberties, criminalizing a plethora of previously legal activities and altering the very structure of British common law.
Henry Porter summed up his legacy well in a letter he wrote to Tony Blair on 23rd April 2006:
"Successive laws passed by New Labour have pared down our liberty at an astonishing rate. The Right to trial by jury, the right to silence, the right not to be punished until a court has decided that the law has been broken, the right to demonstrate and protest, the presumption of innocense, the right to private communication, the right to travel without surveillance and the details of that journey being retained – all have been curtailed by your legislation. While hearsay has become admissible in court, free speech is being patrolled by officious use of public order laws."
Beyond specific policies, it is worth noting that under Mr. Blair the very idea of Government took a paradigm shift. Categories that at one time would have been unthinkable – such as ‘state-sanctioned morality’, ‘thought crimes’ and ‘politically correct religion’ – become reality. It does not surprise me that the European Union, having been moving in this direction for years, is now looking upon Mr. Blair as an appropriate candidate to continue and amplify this totalitarian legacy.
Mr. Blair’s eagerness that Government should function as guardian, not simply of law and order, but also of the ideologies of its citizenry, was made patently obvious when his party tried to push through legislation as part of the Religious Hatred Bill, which would have made it an offense to criticize different religious truth-claims. Even without the impetus of such a law, UK police currently operate under ‘guidance’ that defines a ‘hate incident’ so broadly that it can include debating another person about their lifestyle. Although this guidance has no statutory force, and has been called ‘pseudo-law’ by one constitutional lawyer, it can influence the policy of police constabularies provided it does not lead to an actual charge being issued. The effect is that simply to express certain viewpoints is treated as criminal. (See The Christian Institute’s Update Issue 9, Spring 2007, page 4, for a report on a number of instances where this occurred.)
And just so no one could doubt his totalitarian intentions, Mr. Blair championed the Sexual Orientation Regulations – a law forcing religious adoption agencies to either change their theological commitments and begin placing children with same-sex couples or shut down. (Read more about it here)
It was this tendency to police beliefs that Dr. N. T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham (one of my favorite theological writers, by the way), lambasted in an address to the House of Lords on 9 February, 2006. Dr. Wright referred to a new class of crimes which “have to do, not with actions but with ideas and beliefs.” He said:
But it isn’t just the invention of new moralities that should concern us, my Lords. It is the attempt to enforce them – to enforce, that is, newly invented standards which are in some cases the exact opposite of the old ones. How else can we explain the ejection of a heckler from a party conference for questioning the government’s stance on Iraq, or the attempted silencing of protests on the same subject in Parliament Square? How else can we explain the anxiety not only of religious leaders but also of comedians when faced with that dangerously vague and insidious Religious Hatred legislation? How else can we explain the police investigation of religious leaders such as my Right Reverend colleague the Bishop of Chester, or the Chair of the Muslim Council of Great Britain, for making moderate and considered statements about homosexual practice? And since the crimes in question have to do, not with actions but with ideas and beliefs, what we are seeing is thought crime. People in my diocese have told me that they are now afraid to speak their minds in the pub on some major contemporary issues for fear of being reported, investigated, and perhaps charged. My Lords, I did not think I would see such a thing in this country in my lifetime. All that such a situation can achieve is to add another new fear to those which minorities already experience. The word for such a state of affairs is ‘tyranny’: sudden moral climate change, enforced by thought police.
The sea-change shift in government that occurred under Blair moved the British state from a guardian of law and order to an enforcer of morality, a Nanny for which there was virtual no aspect of public or private life on which she did not take a deep interest. But before I draw the obvious Orwellian implications of Tony Blair's policy, I must be careful. In 2006, Steven Jago, was charged under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act for carrying a placard in Whitehall bearing the following quote by George Orwell: ‘In a time of unviersal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.’ The 36-year old management accountant was also found in possession of several copies of Henry Porter’s article for Vanity Fair titled, ‘Blair’s Big Brother Legacy’, which were quickly confiscated by the police. ‘The implication that I read from this statement at the time was that I was being accused of handing out subversive material,’ said Mr. Jago. Mr. Porter, the London editor of Vanity Fair, wrote to Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, seeking ‘assurance that possession of Vainty Fair within a designated area is not regarded as “politically motivated” and evidence of conscious law-breaking.’
‘Liberty…Not Keep Pace with Change'
David Davis, the former shadow Home Secretary, remarked: ‘If I had gone on the radio 15 years ago and said that a Labour government would limit your right to trail by jury, would limit – in some cases eradicate – habeas corpus, constrain your right of freedom of speech, they would have locked me up.’ But Blair has never tried to conceal his antipathy for civil liberties. In a speech in May 2006, he said that ‘we require a profound rebalancing of the civil liberties debate.’ During a speech at one of the Labour Party conferences, Tony Blair defended the encroaching totalitarianism of his administration by arguing that desperate times call for desperate measures. He said: ‘I don’t want to live in a police state, or a Big Brother society or put any of our essential freedoms in jeopardy. But because our idea of liberty is not keeping pace with change in reality, those freedoms are in jeopardy.’
The Protection From Harassment Act 1997: Worded so vaguely that almost any form of repeated conduct can become a crime. It gives the crown authority to prosecute anyone causing a person ‘alarm or distress’ if this involves ‘conduct on at least two occasions.’ Because such conduct ‘includes speech’, and because it is not necessary to demonstrate that the person causing distress has used abusive or insulting words, merely preaching the gospel could become a criminal offence provided that somebody finds it distressing. The penalty is six months imprisonment or an order preventing the person from repeating the offense on pain of 5 years behind bars. It is now used routinely against peaceful protestors.
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000: Removed the freedom to communicate privately without surveillance. Using this act, Government secretly intercepts and spies on 500,000 pieces of mail every year and email every year.
The Terrorism Act 2000: Removed the freedom to protest in certain circumstances, and increased the police’s power to question and harass individuals going about their business. Also removed the freedom of association and the presumption of innocence.
Criminal Justice Act 2003: Removed trial by jury in serious fraud cases. Also removed some of the remaining pillars of the Magna Carta, such as the right of silence and the rule of double jeopardy.
Courts Act 2003 & Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004: reversing the 400-year old principle that entry into your home could not be forced in civil cases.
Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003: makes hearsay and anonymous testimony admissible as evidence.
Civil Contingencies Act 2004: Gives Government police state powers. Allows Ministers to make special legislation in a seven-day period, including seizing property without compensation, banning Parliament, conferring jurisdiction on any new court or tribunal, provided the Minster believes there is or might be an ‘emergency.’ Ministers can orally declare the existence or potentiality of an emergency without consulting Parliament.The Serious Organized Crime and Police Act 2005: Although this Act is most known for removing freedom to demonstrate outside Parliament unless first approved by police, it also includes a section on ‘harassment intended to deter lawful activities’. Under this act, it is an offense to cause alarm or distress to ‘two or more persons’ by ‘harassing’ them. ‘Harassment’ is defined as seeking ‘to persuade any person … to do something that he is not under any obligation to do’. For example, if I try to persuade two or more people to accept Christ then because they are under no legal obligation to do so, I could be taken to court for harassment if the other person finds it distressing. The Act also requires police to take fingerprints and DNA of everyone who is arrested and to keep them on file even if the person is released without charge. Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005: Further eroded the principle of innocent until proven guilty. Allows Home Secretary to issue control orders restricting the liberty of a suspected terrorist – without trial.
The ID Card Act 2006: Gave Government permission to set up a giant database, known as the National identity Register, to record the transactions of every British citizen, while allowing scores of government agencies to secretly monitor our lives. Overrules the principle of innocent until proven guilty since it allows the Secretary of State to confiscate someone’s card (thereby withdrawing that person’s ability to function in the state) without due process.
The Childcare Act 2006: Gives officials power to enter your property if they suspect that childcare is taking place without a proper license.
These examples could be multiplied by thousands. When Ross Clark was researching for his book How To Label a Goat, Clark reviewed the laws passed during one 12 month period. He found that ‘In the 12 months to 31 May 2006 the Government passed 3,621 separate pieces of legislation. Yes, that is more than 10 new sets of rules and regulations for each day of the year. To give an idea of the sheer weight of these regulations I sampled 10 per cent of the Government’s regulatory output for the 12 months to 31 May 2006, counted the pages and then factored them up. It came to a shocking figure: 72,400 pages of legislation and 26,200 pages of explanatory notes – a total of 98,600 pages of official bum…. If the pages were laid out end to end they would stretch for 18 miles.’
And that’s just one 12 month period under Blair.
Even more worrying is the fact that most of these laws do not actually pass through Parliament but come in the form of mysterious ‘statutory instruments’ – edicts issued directly one of Government’s many agencies, effectively bypassing normal democratic process.
Among the 3,621 pieces of legislation in the 12 months to 31 May 2006, there were only 29 acts of Parliament but 3,592 statutory instruments. This means that the majority of laws passed in Britain under Blair were never even voted on. Indeed, most members of Parliament do not even know that they exist. After all, what MP wants to wade through nearly 100,000 pages of regulations for a year’s bedtime reading?
Threat to Common Law
These and other draconian laws engineered by Tony Blair, led many of his critics to accuse him of abandoning the ancient pillars of British common law. ‘The common law’ said Labour peer Baroness Kennedy HERE,
is built on moral wisdom, grounded in the experiences of ages, acknowledging that governments can abuse power and when a person is on trial the burden of proof must be on the state and no one’s liberty should be removed without evidence of the highest standard. By removing trial by jury and seeking to detain people on civil ASBO orders as a pre-emptive strike, by introducing ID cards, the Government is creating new paradigms of state power. Being required to produce your papers to show who you are is a public manifestation of who is in control. What we seem to have forgotten is that the state is there courtesy of us and we are not here courtesy the state.
Turning Britain Into A Totalitarian Police State
Since Blair has left office, the template he left has only been amplified as others in his Labour party continue the legacy he began, turning Britain into a virtual police state. Am I making this up? Just consider a recent smattering from the mainline papers:
27 October, 2009 • ID card plan 'needs 28m people to sign up to cover costs'
27 October, 2009 • Brussels 'Home Office' plot to snoop on all of Europe
26 October, 2009 • Police compiling database of 'domestic extremist' protesters
22 October, 2009 • Armed police to permanently patrol Britain's streets
21 October, 2009 • Big Brother Britain: £380 a MINUTE spent on tracking your every click online
15 October, 2009 • MEPs call for compulsory 'EU lessons' in schools
15 October, 2009 • Terror Act used on climate activist
13 October, 2009 • A David for this surveillance Goliath?
12 October, 2009 • Equality database sought by government
12 October, 2009 • £1,000 fine for putting any food scraps in the dustbin
9 October, 2009 • Council Snoops Have Power to Issue £300 Fines
8 October, 2009 • Big Brother culture attacked by country's top barrister
7 October, 2009 • Authoritarian? China’s not a patch on Britain
3 October, 2009 • English children abroad to be included on government database
1 October, 2009 • Couple fail to win return of obese children
1 October, 2009 • The United States of Europe Will Come
29 September, 2009 • Europe spies on your pay and savings
28 September, 2009 • Council hires hoodie spies to rummage through bins and see what is being thrown away
20 September, 2009 • Brown misleads Conference on ID cards
20 September, 2009 • Restaurant use CCTV cameras
15 September, 2009 • Presumed guilty
15 September, 2009 • Police must 'be ordered' to ditch DNA
15 September, 2009 • Holyrood security officials accused of illegally snooping on neighbours
15 September, 2009 • Another invasion of liberty. And only the Tories are alert
16 September, 2009 • Conservatives would cut back ‘Big Brother’ state
13 September, 2009 • Government issues 'snooper handbook' to staff
13 September, 2009 • We need to repeal 12 years of vile laws attacking our liberty
12 September, 2009 • Eurocrats to Control Britain's Borders
9 September, 2009 • Police given assault warning over DNA samples taken from children
8 September, 2009 • Does your council persecute households?
7 September, 2009 • MoD spends £426,000 spying on injured soldiers
5 September, 2009 • Town halls are spying on us at tips and in car parks
4 September, 2009 • ID cards: A new layer of compulsion
2 September, 2009 • £500 fine if you put out wheelie bin on the wrong day
25 August, 2009 • CCTV: the worst of all possible worlds
20 August, 2009 • ASBO for buskers who only knew two songs
17 August, 2009 • Millions Wasted on Nonsense 'Nanny-State' Jobs
15 August, 2009 • Police stop and search children as young as two
12 August, 2009 • 300 children a day added to DNA database
11 August, 2009 • Big Brother Britain has more CCTV cameras than China
10 August, 2009 • 1,500 snoop requests made every day
7 August, 2009 • Police told to ignore human rights ruling over DNA database
5 August, 2009 • Government Announces 24-Hour CCTV Surveillance for Bad Parents
4 August, 2009 • CCTV cameras installed in classrooms
3 August, 2009 • ContactPoint database could put 11 million children at risk
30 July, 2009 • Drippy health and safety police ban swimmers from doing lengths
30 July, 2009 • Johnson due to unveil new ID card
27 July, 2009 • Get £500 to spy on neighbours
21 July, 2009 • Councils still breaking surveillance laws
18 July, 2009 • Child database: danger of malicious reporting
14 July, 2009 • DNA database expanding by 40,000 profiles a month
10 July, 2009 • On-the-spot fines replace court hearings
1 July, 2009 • ID scheme is an 'embarrassment'
Blair's new laws leave us at the mercy of future tyrants