This is one of my series of lunchtime blogposts.
This is why we need a Lib Dem Home Secretary.
Today we have the wonderful revelation that the City of London police have labelled #occupy protesters as a "domestic threat". Here's the "Terrorism/Extremism Update" letter where they do so:
In quite literally the same breath as talking about the threat from Al Qaeda and the IRA (terrorist organisations which have killed thousands of people between them) the police also talk about the "domestic threat" from a protest that has so far managed such heinous attacks on our way of life such as annoying the clergy and taking a prolonged camping trip in central London.
This is both chilling and disgusting.
In this country we are fortunate enough to have a strong tradition of freedom and liberty, built up over a thousand years. And every single liberty, every single right - from the right to speak your mind to the right not to be kidnapped and tortured by the police - was fought for and won through relentless struggle that was frequently met with violence and repression from the authorities.
We are not China. We are not Belarus. We are not Nazi Germany. We have rights and one of the most vital of those rights is the right to protest. Likening citizens to murdereds like Al Qaeda purely for activism is nothing less than an utter assault on the right to protest.
Activisim is a brilliant thing. I'm an activist. Everyone in a political party or a charity or a pressure group is engaging in activism. Activism is what builds a strong society, where people feel involved and feel that they have a stake in society. The kind of paranoia that views this as a threat is potentially deadly. It is not a thousand miles away from the thinking that led to the mass imprisonment, torture and execution of protestors in authoritarian regimes throughout human history.
We should be beyond that. Have we learnt nothing from the semi-police state that New Labour created? One where everyone was a suspect and where an attitude of "if you're innocent you shouldn't have anything to hide" prevailed. Except that attitude led to the imprisonment of the innocent. Right now, literally right now, there are men under permanent house arrest, with no prospect of appeal or even a trial, for the crime of being in a house where ricin was being produced. Except there was no ricin. The intelligence that ricin was being produced came from an anonymous tip off and not one shred of evidence to back up that suspicion has ever been produced. Yet, because of that, innocent men are facing life imprisonment without ever having been found guilty in court.
That is exactly the attitude that the paranoia in the above letter leads to. To all liberals this should be utterly abhorrent. Yet, because we have a Home Secretary just as idiotic, just as authoritarian just as contemptuous of fundamental British liberties as her New Labour predecessors, this paranoia is allowed to continue and allowed to fester and gnaw at the heart of the men with truncheons and tasers and guns who are supposed to defend those liberties. But instead they are turned into a suspicious organisation where anyone who dares to stand out from the crowd is a suspect as threatening as Bin Laden.
That is what we have come to.
I'd hope that our Lib Dem ministers will do something about this. I'd hope that they'd tell the Home Secretart to fuck off and stop the police from treating peaceful protesters as terrorist suspects. I'd hope that they'd convince the police of how wrong it is to send out letters to the public where activism is conflated with terrorism.
I doubt it though. Too many of our ministers seem to have turned to snivelling cowards whenever matters of principle are involved. I really, really hope I'm wrong but, from where I stand, I can't see any reason to be optimistic.
Hat tip to Lib Con.