01 December 2008

Westminster: truly a Mother of a Parliament

UK Government uses anti-terrorism police to arrest shadow minister of immigration over a leak of government information about immigration

Even the leaders of the oldest democratic institution in the world no longer seem to have even the vaguest notion what freedoms the West is fighting for in resisting terrorism. In the same week that Pakistani Muslims invaded India on a carefully planned and executed suicide terrorist raid targeted at western tourists in Mumbai and killed and tortured over 180 people, the Speaker of the Parliament in Westminster allowed an anti-terrorism police unit to raid an Opposition parliamentarian's Westminster offices. This was apparently because he was getting access to public service information leaks on immigration data.

Of the many things that really stick in my craw about this astonishing descent into totalitarianism by the UK Government, the one I'm having most difficlulty dislodging is that this police operation was presided over by the Assistant Commissioner Specialist Operations with the Metropolitan Police Service, with responsibility for Counter-Terrorism, a Mr Bob Quick.

From this distance:

Either: the Metropolitan Police treats leaks of Home Office information about immigration statistics in the same Police department that deals with Anti-terrorism operations, which itself is an amazing conflation of responsibilities, that belies a profound misunderstanding of the comprehensively different character of the exceptional use of intrusive anti-terrorism powers from the democratic process which countenances and protects political challenges to a government by an opposition without access to taxpayer funded government department information.

Or: the Commissioner of Police or a Minister specifically ordered that the Counter-terrorism Chief oversee a Home Office immigration department leak investigation.

Which ever way it is, it looks conspicuously like Westminster democracy has just entered the latest version of of an early form of totalitarianism.

The arrest of a member of Parliament for embarrassing a government with the Government's own information is an act of totalitarianism by that government.

This seems even clearer now that the Met Police have indicated that they were advised by the Cabinet Secretary that this leak enquiry into Home Office immigration information was a matter of "national security". This was said apparently to explain away why they used "counter terrorism" police on the investigation. But this only confirms that the executive government were responsible for directing the way the Police were to handle this enquiry. The idiot British journalists are suggesting in their oh so clever parsing of this development that it puts pressure on the Tories trying to make too much fuss over a police bungle. The bloody press can't even recognise that this line of defence from the Met points the finger at the Government, not the Opposition. And the idiot Fleet Street journalists can't even see the consequences of this spin for what it is. No wonder British democracy is in such peril when even the fourth estate (or should that be fifth?) can't do its job.

The fact that the Speaker of the House of Commons gave approval for the Seargent-at-Arms of the Palace of Westminster to allow the Metropolitan Police access to a member of Parliament's office, over an enquiry into a politically embarrassing information about immigration held by that member of Parliament, means the Speaker has no conception of what fundamental liberties and constitutional protections his role entails.

If, as seems inevitable, even the Speaker of the House of Commons was complicit in this travesty of constitutional principle, then British democracy and freedom no longer have any real guarantors or protectors in its system of government.

Westminster democracy has suffered a mortal blow. Whether it survives depends on whether this is seen by its participants (including the press) for the shameful travesty that it is. Many of us who first learnt the shape of our ideals and aspirations about government and democracy by studying British parliamentary history and its traditions, feel a deep sense of foreboding that society's persistent trivialization of principle and constant elevation of the trivial, may have finally fatally undermined constitutional protection of individual freedoms in the birthplace of modern democracy.

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