When David Miranda, partner of Guardian correspondent Glenn Greenwald, was detained at Heathrow Airport at the weekend while in transit from Berlin to Brazil, and held for the maximum nine hours provided for by the 2000 Terrorism Act, there was outrage – but not across the whole political spectrum. The right, and especially the libertarian part of it, was not so much as interested.
Only during the day has press coverage reached outside the Guardian, with the Mail at least publishing a reasonable account of the detention, together with adverse comment from a variety of Labour MPs – among them Tom Watson, Keith Vaz and Yvette Cooper – plus Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty, and to his credit Nick Pickles of Big Brother Watch. So what’s the problem with the libertarian right?
Sadly, as soon as someone says it’s the Guardian, and it is known that Labour MPs are speaking in support, there has to be an instant polarisation of the incident into a left-versus-right narrative. So the passing of the relevant act by a Labour Government, although there has been no sign of repeal by the Coalition, has been held to mean it’s all their fault.
That the detention was down to the interpretation of the act – making someone in a relationship with someone who has been given information by someone else that the USA would very much like to extradite and cause to stand trial on its own soil into a terrorist suspect – does not seem to enter. And no-one has asked if there might have been a way of excusing the detention, had the 2000 Act not been present.
So at the bear pit that is Telegraph blogs, we see Rob Crilly arguing “David Miranda's detention is not as sinister as it sounds. But our sweeping anti-terror laws are”. Yes, it’s OK to detain Miranda, but the laws are A Very Bad Thing. So Crilly is telling the readers that the authorities at Heathrow ought to have found another excuse to nick Miranda, because, well, he was carrying documents.
This is developed further by the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his newly anointed teaboy Alex Wickham at the Guido Fawkes blog. Greenwald is described in typically uncomplimentary terms – the kind accorded to real journalists who achieve what the Fawkes folks never will – and the best they can say about the nine hour detention is that it is “eyebrow raising”. And it’s all Labour’s fault.
All of which shows, once again, that from phone hacking to climate change to the most basic of human rights, the right has a problem. And that problem is that they cannot rationalise an increasing number of issues other than in a right versus left way. Rather than do the decent thing and agree that the denial of liberty is wrong, the immediate reaction is to dig around and find a way to kick the rotten lefties.
That is a sad reflection on the libertarian right. And, ultimately, it’s their problem.