Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ceding the High Ground

Celebrating Gordon's Gift
The arguments over government proposals for further supposedly anti-terror legislation, especially on pre-trial detention, have continued to rumble on today, and so they should.

I'm sure there is nobody rationale who would want anything other than to see the would be perpetrators of the types of outrageous crimes that have occured from time to time in recent years thwarted, caught and punished. This does not however mean that every 'get tough' policy from the government, should, as Gordon seems to believe, be nodded through simply because the police would like the additional powers.

You don't even have the type of passionate belief in individual liberties and basic values, such as a person's fundamental innocence until properly convicted to understand why the type of measures the government appears to be considering should be treated with the greatest of scepticism. All you really need to do is a very simple, though unpleasant, thought experiment and just for a moment put yourself in the shoes of a terrorist leader, and try and imagine how he will have reacted to recent announcements.

Will he have slammed down his fist in frustration on his desk or whatever he may have his dank cave and torn up his plans for attacking the UK overland train network? I suspect not, I think he will probably joined his brethren for a little jig firing volley after volley of AK-47 ammunition into the air. Why wouldn't he? After all he has forced, in his mind at least, a western state to consider placing a highly visible daily reminder of the threat his and similar organisations pose in 285 of the busiest railway stations. This is a measure he will know will have to all intents and purposes zero impact on his ability to operate but will create a very real sense of threat in the minds of the loathed infidels and that after all is his primary objective. As for pre-trial detention, he needs to nothing but wait for the first case of mistaken identity or bad intelligence leading to prolonged imprisonment for an innocent member of a very sensitive community.

As is so often the case with the current government it is the most headline grabbing initiatives that stand up to the least scrutiny. After all to grab headlines is their raison d'être, not actually to be effective. Try another thought experiment. You've got a backpack full of explosives and you want to blow up a packed commuter express just as it comes into London Waterloo during the morning rush hour, but the 285 busiest stations have airport style security scans; do you abort your mission? I've not read the Al Queda training manual, but off the top of my head I can think of a dozen or more ways I could render the inconvenience to those standing in the queues for the scanners completely worthless.

This particular suggestion is at best a symbolic gesture to show the government is doing something, albeit at enormous cost in cash and inconvenience terms. At worst things could take a rather more sinister turn. After all, once the National Identity Register is up and running, what better way could you find to 'encourage' us to file into the registration centre for processing like the mindless sheep the government wishes us to be, than introduce a 'common sense' ID check at these security bottlenecks.

I guess you could clamp down on all train and tube stations, with full airport style checks at all stages even for, say, a ten minute trip from Battersea to Waterloo. I guess there would even be those whose knee jerk reaction would be to say yes to this, just as they squeal 'nothing to hide, nothing to fear' on ID cards. Fine, but all you would have achieved by this draconian action is a displacement to fear of buses, and so it goes on.

Airport type checks are appropriate for airports. They are relatively few in number, making the checks practical, the vast majority of journeys are of sufficient length to make the time spent going through security checks seem acceptable, the limited amount of weaponry or explosives needed to cause an outrage make them essential.

This particular gesture, for that is all it is, is about making Gordon Brown appear to be the tough man we all now know he isn't.

The suggestions on pre-trial detention are worse. They should outrage any fair minded person, as should the denunciations of those who speak against them. That said, I'll wait until we know what the government position is once all troublemakers have reported to Number 10 for their reeducation session, before venting my spleen on this subject.

Personally, the greatest tragedy of Labour's response to the terrorist threat, is a growing difficulty to feel proud of my country, in the sense of the values it demonstrates through actions not words to the outside world.

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