David Blunkett is riled. After listing his allegedly liberal virtues in his speech yesterday, he declared: "All this from a Home Secretary who is supposed to be authoritarian." At least he feels he has to respond to the description.
Of course, this newspaper accepts that progress has been made. Crime has fallen substantially since 1997, although the fear of crime has not. In that respect, more officers on the beat are important, and Mr Blunkett is justified in boasting that he has raised the numbers to the highest level ever. And, for all that more could have been done, this government is at least focused in a way its predecessor was not on the causes of crime.
In our two disputes with Mr Blunkett, though, over asylum-seekers and civil liberties, we remain of the view that his policies are unpleasantly and unnecessarily authoritarian.
Yes, Britain's work permit system has been expanded to allow more legal economic migration. But this government's attitude to asylum-seekers remains shameful. How can the Home Secretary imagine that locking up desperate people without charge could be described as anything but authoritarian? How could it be "liberal" to institute a regime under which genuine refugees are bound to be turned away?
As for the civil liberties of those who already live here, the Home Secretary tried to make the case for restricting the right to trial by jury. He even won some applause from Labour delegates - but only by implying that the aim was to deal with the threat of jury-nobbling, for which there is already provision in law.
Mr Blunkett did not even try to make the case for identity cards. He simply does not understand the objection on principle to the state collecting and controlling information about the individual. The Independent is not dogmatic about that; scepticism about the power of the state is a tendency not an absolute. If we thought identity cards would help fight crime we would support them; but there is no evidence they would.
Until the Home Secretary shows some inkling that he understands the dangers of the abuse of state power, he will continue, fairly, to be branded an authoritarian.
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