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Friday, January 28, 2005


the british police state

concern runs high in some circles in the united states that the bush administration has launched what is effectively a nascent police state in response to 9/11. but oft overlooked here is the fact that britain too -- a nation with a tradition of sensible parliamentary government dating to the 17th century -- has seen fascism rear its ugly head in london.

the biggest difference is that the british press discusses such things much more candidly than an american press that frequently appears cowed either by its readership or the authority of the white house. opinion runs hot from the left-wing guardian to the conservative daily telegraph to the house of commons:

The leftwing Labour MP and QC, Bob Marshall-Andrews, called the proposals "the most substantial extension of the state's executive powers over the citizen for 300 years".

He predicted the bill could face a Labour backbench revolt of up to 70 MPs.

Tony Blair mounted a strong defence of the plans.

Speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he said: "I pay great attention to the civil liberties of the country. But on the other hand, it is also right that there is a new form of global terrorism in our country, in every other European country and most countries around the world."
even british counterterrorism czars -- much like our own richard clarke -- are sounding the alarms:

George Churchill-Coleman, who headed Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad as they worked to counter the IRA during their mainland attacks in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said Mr Clarke's proposals to extend powers, such as indefinite house arrest, were "not practical" and threatened to further marginalise minority communities.

Mr Churchill-Coleman told the Guardian: "I have a horrible feeling that we are sinking into a police state, and that's not good for anybody. We live in a democracy and we should police on those standards.
but the truth is that the cabinet in britain, much like the presidency in the united states, now operates beyond the authority of parliament in many ways. it is highly questionable that blair or his successors can effectively be called to account for the destruction of the tradition of civil rights that began perhaps with the rights of the aristocracy against the monarch, as articulated in the magna carta of 1215.

perhaps this is the end, then, of the british moderate tradition that was so magnificently expounded through hobbes, locke, smith, wilberforce, burke, madison and washington, bentham, hume, disraeli and so many others. the coincident decay of ancient political institutiuons of britain and its closest offspring, america and australia, should be evidence that what is happening is not a momentary isolated madness -- but is instead the erosion and end of parliamentary republicanism in the western nations which were its home and fortress.

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