On this issue I am ready to take to the streets

Just two days of debate are all that may lie between us and the loss of 300 years of liberty

Share
Related Topics

Suppose that by the time the House of Commons has completed its work on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill later today, it still gives legal form to indefinite house arrest without trial on the say-so of a government minister. What shall we do then? I mean those of us who believe that the 800-year-old right of habeas corpus - thou shall have the person in court - should not be given up.

Let me speak for myself: I live in central London, I travel by Tube, I make regular trips to Paris via the Channel Tunnel, I use airlines. I am a citizen of a country that invaded Iraq. I am vulnerable. Nonetheless, I would rather go on running the daily risk of being injured or killed in a terrorist incident than have my freedom from arrest without trial removed.

Don't tell me that bringing in a judge to look over the Home Secretary's shoulder a few days after a control order has been issued restores the situation. Prisoners still wouldn't know the nature of the charges against them nor the evidence upon which they were based.

Doesn't it seem extraordinary that one must need make these simple points about a free society in a newspaper article in 2005? Brian Sedgemore, a Labour MP who opposes the measure, put it very well in the House of Commons last week: "Many Members have gone nap on the matter. They voted, first, to abolish trial by jury in less serious cases; secondly, to abolish trial by jury in more serious cases; thirdly, to approve an unlawful war; fourthly, to create a gulag at Belmarsh; and fifthly, to lock up innocent people in their homes. It is truly terrifying to imagine what those Members of Parliament will vote for next. I can describe all that only as New Labour's descent into hell."

Precisely. That is the problem and that is why I ask: what are we to do? By the end of today, then, we may have only the House of Lords to defend our freedoms. Should we content ourselves with waiting to see what their Lordships decide to do, switching on the radio or television news a bit anxiously to hear how the debate is going, or picking up the next morning's newspaper with a fair degree of trepidation?

When one remembers that earlier generations went to war to defend our freedoms, this is a feeble response. Again I turn to Brian Sedgemore: "I am reminded that our fathers fought and died for liberty - my own father literally - believing that these things should not happen here, and we would never allow them to happen here."

This looks to me like an occasion when, for the first in my life, I must go on to the street in protest - or at least I must stand outside the House of Lords as it examines the obnoxious bill. I shall hope that others will be there, and that there will be a spontaneous combustion of protest against the most authoritarian government that Britain has seen in modern times

For this reason, I was very encouraged by the report on one newspaper yesterdaythat hundreds of leading figures from the arts, law and the church had signed a declaration accusing the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, of violating precious British values.

It listed among its signatories such disparate figures as Vanessa Redgrave and Frederick Forsyth, Sir David Hare and Mr Scruff, the DJ, as well as a long list of eminent lawyers. Its statement concluded by asserting that: "Visible injustice debases our democracy and undermines our safety. Indefinite detention without trial is always wrong. We call on our politicians to think again."

Good, but assuming the Government gets its way today in the Commons, I urge the signatories to go one step further and stand outside the House of Lords tomorrow when it stages a second reading debate and then again two days later, on Thursday, when the Lords examine the Bill line by line. Just these two days of debate are all that may lie between us and the loss of safeguards we have enjoyed for 300 years.

"When the people come out onto the streets, it is always important." That was said to me by Neal Ascherson, the wise Scottish author who used to write a column for the Independent on Sunday. I had been speaking to him about the great crowds that had gone to Kensington Palace to mourn the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. That did indeed turn out to be important because by their homage and later by their attendance at the funeral procession, the British people rebuked the Royal Family.

Before that, in recent memory, there were the poll tax riots, and subsequently the great peace march, one million strong, that silently passed through London streets to protest against the decision to invade Iraq. "Not in our name" was written on the banners.

What should we write on the banners this time? "No police state" goes too far. "No house arrest" or "no detention without trial" - they would both do. But on further consideration, I think that "not in our names" still has strength. If Parliament gives David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, the powers he has requested, it will not have been in my name. I shall look through the lists of those who voted in favour and shudder.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions