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Friday, 14 May 2010

What Labour Can Do – 2

One characteristic of our society here in the UK is that of freedom of the individual. Allied with this is the presupposition of innocence until being proved guilty, and strict limits on any kind of detention without charge. The last of these has, on the watch of the New Labour Project, been the subject of change, which I believe to have been mistaken.

Detaining someone without charge for even a fortnight – which is where we came in – is bad enough, whatever the alleged offence. Going from there to 28 days was unnecessary, and when Tone suggested that there could be grounds for extending that to a whopping 90 days, I concluded that he had done a Parthenon, and been separated from his marbles.

This kind of authoritarian behaviour, I believe, is an abuse of power, and the electorate will rapidly tire of being bullied into acquiescence by having the supposed spectre of terrorism waved in their faces. And the kind of example trotted out in defence of the authoritarianism does not stand serious analysis.

The agents of terror, we are told, nowadays use computer disks to store information: clearly nothing gets past the political class. So let’s compare this with the more traditional paper. How long does it take to search a filing cabinet full of indifferently indexed paper? Now compare with how long it takes to search a hard disk unit, which can routinely hold many times more information.

Searching the disk is faster by many times. Thus the duration of detention without trial, if it depends on searching that kind of information store, should be getting shorter, not longer. The suspect won’t let you know the password or unlock it for you? Fine – that’s an offence for which they can be tried and sentenced. For how long? Ooh, try 28 days for starters, rising to 90. Job done.

No, longer detention without trial is not justifiable. Moreover, it is flagrantly illiberal, and on a pragmatic level will chase the more liberally minded voters away. They are less likely to come back unless the party can be seen to move to a more liberal and, yes, common sense position.

But won’t there be an outcry from some parts of the media? Ah well. That will be covered next.

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