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John Simkin

Freedom of Speech in Blair's Britain

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There is an old saying that "when the United States sneezes, the British catch a cold.”

The UK did not follow the US example when JFK was assassinated. We continued to remove our leaders by democratic means.

When LBJ sent large number of troops into Vietnam, Harold Wilson, the British Prime Minister, despite the threat of economic consequences, refused to follow the US example.

When Richard Nixon ordered members of Operation Gemstone and Operation Sandwedge to break the law in order to sabotage his opponents attempts to gain power, we continued to rely on the democratic process.

However, this has all changed under Tony Blair. Unlike previous prime ministers, he has sacrificed our independence in order to slavishly follow the instructions of George Bush’s masters.

Blair, like Bush, has used the fear of terrorism to restrict the rights of UK citizens. Recently, politicians have blocked measures proposed by Blair to hold citizens for 90 days without charge.

Yet polls suggest that around 80% of the UK supported Blair’s proposals. The reason being is that the public have been persuaded that this measure is vital in the fight against terrorism. I suppose the key factor is that the British people do not think this measure could be applied to them. They think, I am not a Muslim so the police will not think I am a terrorist. Therefore, I am safe from being arrested without trial.

However, there are two pieces of legislation that Blair has got through Parliament. For example, Maya Evans was arrested for reading the names of civilians and soldiers killed in Iraq outside the gates of 10 Downing Street. She was charged under the Serious Organized Crime and Police Act (2005). This act makes it illegal to protest within 1km of Parliament Square without police authorisation. Currently we have 20 cases awaiting trial for this offence.

John Catt, an 80 year old RAF veteran was recently arrested under the Terrorism Act (2000). His offence, according to the charge sheet was that he was “carrying a placard” and “wearing a T-shirt with anti-Blair info”. A recent radio phone-in suggested that this is happening all the time.

At the last Labour Party conference, Walter Wolfgang, 82, a veteran party member who fled Nazi Germany, was bundled out of the conference hall after shouting “nonsense” as Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, defended Britain’s role in Iraq”. When he tried to re-enter, he was stopped and detained under the Terrorism Act.

At virtually every political demonstration that takes place in the UK, people are detained under the Terrorism Act. Isabelle Ellis-Cockcroft was only 11 when she was stopped and searched when she took part in a demonstration outside Fairford air base in Gloucestershire. Others were forced back on their coaches by the police and the drivers were forced to drive back to London. Another 120 protestors were detained for nearly 3 hours without arrest (a breach of the Human Rights Act).

In May of this year, Lindis Percy, a 61 year old veteran of the peace movement, was electronically tagged and ordered to stay indoors in the evenings under another new piece of Blair legislation, the Anti-Social Behaviour Act. This was all done to make sure Lindis did not hold protests outside US military bases.

Another piece of proposed legislation concerns the “glorification” of terrorism. It has not been made clear what this actually means. Another proposal is to make it illegal to “ridicule religion”. I suppose it is only a matter of time before we follow the examples of Hitler and Stalin and make it illegal to ridicule political leaders.

Under the Public Order Act the police are forced to investigate anyone who says something that a member of the public objects to. If found guilty, the person is forced to apologise and to undergo “training”. Recently a woman was questioned by the police under this act after claiming on the radio that it was a bad idea to place boys for adoption with two homosexual men.

Tony Blair is a dead man walking. It is only a matter of time before he is removed from office. The question is, how much permanent damage will he do to our basic freedoms before he goes.

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John - obviously we expect Brown to simply follow on with such policies. Do you think David Cameron would step back from this kind of law-making - given his claims to libertarian tendencies? Or do you think that once in power, any modern government will implement and support such infringements on civil liberties if they can get away with it. Perhaps it is the next stage of modern capitalism - to do away with democracy and let the corporations rule.

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obviously we expect Brown to simply follow on with such policies. Do you think David Cameron would step back from this kind of law-making - given his claims to libertarian tendencies?

Although it seems increasingly likely that Cameron will be the next PM (Blair continues to election, Labour loses) there is no reason to suspect he will 'roll back the state' and reinstate freedoms any more than his party did after their victory over the Old Tory Labour Party of Callaghan in 1979. He's stuck by the same 'rules of engagement' here as with admitting student transgressions.

Perhaps it is the next stage of modern capitalism - to do away with democracy and let the corporations rule.

You mean we aren't there already??

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