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Getting the government we deserve?

Posted by Richard Thursday, July 14, 2005

Strangely unreported by the media is a speech given by home secretary Clarke to the EU parliament, when he told MEPs that, in the fight against terrorism, "security must take priority over citizens' rights".

Clarke was addressing the Civil Liberties Committee to present the programme of the UK presidency, whence he gave support to moves to speed up draft EU legislation to allow data retention from phone calls and emails to help fight terrorism, a plan rejected by MEPs in June when they sent the proposal back to the parliamentary committee for further debate.

Taking the MEPs head on, he asked, "How is the right balance between security and freedom to be found? ... The point I want to make is that the human right to travel on the underground in London on a Thursday morning without being blown up is also an important right", Clarke said.

So, once again we have a British politician pleading "necessity", to which William Pitt the Younger had the answer (cited by my co-editor on her blog last November). On 18 November 1783, in his response to the East India Bill, put together by Edmund Buke and introduced by Charles James Fox on behalf of the Fox-North coalition, he declared:

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants, it is the creed of slaves.
One could also quote US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, from her speech on 20 June of this year in Egypt, when she said: "For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East - and we achieved neither."

In a different context, what Clarke is effectively saying is that he is determined to pursue security at the expense of civil liberties and, employing the clinical logic expressed by Condoleezza Rice, he will achieve neither.

Nevertheless, when confronted with a crisis, politicians just cannot resist the temptation to go rushing in to make new laws, just the dynamic about which I warned in my Sunday post.

But hey! Who am I to talk? If the readers of the Manchester Evening Post (online edition) are any guide, most people would support Clarke. Asked in a poll (numbers unspecified), "Should civil liberties be curtailed in order to fight terrorism?", 67 percent answered "yes" and only 33 percent said "no".

One can only observe that, as a rule, people get the government they deserve. But, do we deserve the government we've got?