Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Freedom for Sale: John Kampfner

John Kampfner at Index on Censorship, says by the time Blair left office, he had built a surveillance state unrivalled anywhere in the democratic world. Parliament passed 45 criminal justice laws—more than the total for the whole of the previous century—creating more than 3,000 new criminal offences. That was two new offences for each day parliament was sitting.

  • Police and security forces were given greater powers of arrest and detention.
  • All institutions of state were granted increased rights to snoop.
  • Individuals were required to hand over unprecedented amounts of data

New Labour has made the left suspicious of civil liberties, liberties it was always concerned to protect, for they are necessarily removed always by fascist governments intent on destroying liberty as a whole. From ID cards to CCTV, to a national DNA database, to long periods of detention without charge, to public order restrictions on protest and curbs on free expression through draconian libel laws, New Labour rewrote the relationship between state and individual. It laid the footings of a fascist state, just as the USA Patriot Act did.

Meanwhile, blatantly unprincipled and hypocritical, Blair’s government colluded with US “special rendition” flights, the transport of terrorist suspects to secret prisons, with transit rights at British airports, and serious questions have been raised about the UK’s role in torture.

A party that should have intervened for social justice and greater equality instead allowed the bankers to rob us by setting up pyramid schemes to pile up bonuses, then, when the scheme inevitably went bust, arranged for we suckers to pay them the huge deficits they had created, and without any noticeable inclination to seek retribution. Instead, ministers sought ever more ingenious ways of watching us, listening to us, and telling us how to lead our lives. Why is all this not sending out a strong whiff of Naziism?

It is all surprising because, in Britain, since Victoria, we have prided ourselves on liberal traditions. Yet now those who complain about individual rights are regarded with disdain or hostility. Kampfner in a new book (Freedom for Sale) thinks people around the world, whatever their different cultures or circumstances, have been too willing over the past 20 years to trade certain freedoms in return for the promise of either prosperity or security. We have elevated private freedoms, especially the freedom to earn and spend money, over public freedoms, such as democratic participation and accountability and free expression. What he calls “globalised glut”, the thirst for material comfort, the ultimate anesthetic for the brain.

If he is right, we are now moving from the new 1929 to the new 1930s, with the prospect of a new world war in a decade. Sounds as if we should all be reading this book. The we had better wake up.

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