Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: The members for immunity

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Damian Green is enjoying the moment. Can't blame him really. Must be like winning the lottery. His was a modest political career, plodding along. Then suddenly the genial MP became an accidental hero, his name emblazoned in lights of indignation.

That his office was "raided" by police without due authorisation was not nice, and a nine-hour interview must have felt most unpleasant. Think of it as a priceless learning experience. The next time our police break down the doors of blameless families and arrest innocent young men Green will be able to fight on their behalf with authentic passion.

The Speaker was seriously ineffectual so may have to resign. But I cannot be the only one to recoil from excessively emoting, self-righteous MPs and their outlandish claims to total legal immunity – not to mention the whipping up of a so-called constitutional crisis and careless talk about "a police state".

No British citizen is above the law. Not should they be. Article 9 of the 1689 Bill of Rights states: "The freedom of speech and debates or proceedings ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place outside Parliament." That, according to the impeccable constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor, does not mean anything goes within the walls of the palaces of Westminster.

The protection extends to procedures and correspondence between MPs and their constituents. What if a rogue parliamentarian secretes a cache of stolen money in his office? Or assaults his researcher? Or is passing information to al-Qa'ida?

The outrage is the outrage of elected members that one of theirs should be called to account. Remember their howls when the police were looking into the cash for peerage allegations? Peter Hain has just been told he will not face any charges after failing to declare donations to his deputy leader campaign. He is furious that he was investigated for an "honest mistake" – not declaring the donations promptly. Well I made an "honest mistake" turning for 30 seconds into the congestion charge zone. I still have to pay my fine.

It does look as though the police are being warned off, or intimidated as Margaret Beckett observed yesterday. The theatrical smoke and mirrors orchestrated by the Tories have blinded some of the independent protectors to our fundamental civil rights. Some vital matters need to be considered. Christopher Galley, the civil servant in the Home Office who regularly supplied Damian Green with information, presents himself as a conscientious and politically-neutral whistleblower. Is he? Or is he a closet Tory mole who is only interested in his party winning the next election? We don't know yet. But the greatest strength of our civil service is its impartiality.

There have been people in GCHQ and government departments who blew their own careers for the national good. As Richard Ingrams pointed out on these pages on Saturday, David Keogh, a civil servant, and Leo O'Connor, a researcher for a Labour MP, were given prison sentences three years ago because the former leaked to the latter details of a revealing conversation between Blair and Bush on the war in Iraq. That kind of leak has some nobility attached to it.

Say Galley is an honest dealer and was breaking the rules of confidentiality for the greater good. Even that doesn't totally exonerate him. Civil servants understand perfectly their rules of conduct. They are free to leave their jobs if they cannot live by those regulations.

If too many of them started releasing material to the voracious public eye, the country would become ungovernable. Greengate ain't over. Perhaps now we can get answers to questions not yet asked.

Good on you, Selina. The battle's not over

Selina Scott is the latest in a line of feisty women who won't take institutional sexism and ageism lying down, as it were. The 57-year- old newsreader has just won a landmark settlement with Five after it allegedly decided she was too old to replace Natasha Kaplinsky while the latter was on maternity leave.

Scott claimed she was initially lined up for the job then dumped for a younger model. Nothing new here, not in this industry. Accomplished women like Moira Stuart and Anna Ford were similarly edged out when they reached a certain age and that age of rejection gets younger all the time.

Kate Adie is hanging in there, but now is confined to a slot on the radio where she presumably can't offend viewers with her face. No such barriers apply to John Simpson of course, or David Dimbleby et al.

Look at other sectors and the situation is no better. In Britain and most other countries we are expected to accept inferior status, to keep quiet, not to challenge the status quo. Hail Scott and all the other brave sisters who refuse these orders. And they say feminism is dead. Ha.

Wearing an iPod is like wearing a burkha

The full burkha cuts off a woman from the nation in which she moves and lives. She is among us, but her forbidding garment tells us she has no wish to be of us – one reason so many of us object to it vehemently. Yet a much more widespread sociopathic disengagement goes unremarked.

I speak here of the many Britons absorbed only in their mobile phones and iPods. There are objections raised to the noise these zombies make, but not to their users' withdrawal from shared spaces. These people make no eye contact and resist any approach from fellow humans. Like drunks and druggies they seem lost in perilous oblivion. Touch them to get them to move when on public transport and they react as if a bee has just stung their eyelids. A young woman on the Northern Line nearly slapped me because I put my hand on her elbow to get her attention.

This electronic burkha is hateful and if it carries on, one day there truly will be no such thing as society.