Blair turns on critics of his 'illiberal' agenda

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Tony Blair and Charles Clarke have hit back at critics who have accused the Government of pursuing "illiberal" policies to combat antisocial behaviour, crime and terrorism.

At his monthly press conference, the Prime Minister was questioned about criticism from the human rights group Liberty, in The Independent yesterday, that he led "one of the most authoritarian governments in living memory".

Mr Blair said his administration had introduced the Human Rights Act to ensure the Government and Parliament was held to account over essential human rights for the first time in British history. "This whole civil liberties debate is conducted on the basis that the only civil liberties that matter are those of the potential or accused offender. There are also the civil liberties of the people in the community who are fed up with people creating menace and difficulty, drug dealing on the street and so on," he said.

"We have given the police the resources and powers to deal with it. We will legislate again if they need more powers."

The Home Secretary, meanwhile, hit back at commentators, including Simon Carr of The Independent, who have berated the Government over issues such as identity cards, anti-terror legislation and controls on protests.

He said complex debates were often covered in a simplistic way by columnists who reflected a "more general intellectual laziness" in the media. "I believe that a pernicious and even dangerous poison is now slipping into at least some parts of this media view of the world," Mr Clarke said in a speech at the London School of Economics. "In the absence of many of the genuinely evil ... dictatorships to fight - since they've gone - the media has steadily rhetorically transferred to some of the existing democracies, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom, some of the characteristics of those dictatorships.

"So some commentators routinely use language like 'police state', 'fascist', 'hijacking our democracy', 'creeping authoritarianism', 'destruction of the rule of law', while words like 'holocaust', 'gulag' and 'apartheid' are regularly used of our society in ways which must be truly offensive to those who experienced those realities." He went on: "The truth just flies out of the window."

Mr Clarke also said articles in The Observer and The Guardian made "incorrect, tendentious and over-simplified" statements about the Government's record on civil liberties.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "Charles Clarke should realise that you don't defend our way of life by sacrificing our way of life. It is remarkable he has chosen to blame the media - especially as his whole strategy seems designed to achieve good headlines for the Government rather than effective policies to protect the citizens."