In December the Law Lords ruled that the government’s detention of suspects without trial at various high-security prisons was unlawful. So, towards the end of January, Charles Clarke took the opportunity to propose a whole new range of measures that could be employed without any charges being made.
“Control orders” could be imposed by the Home Secretary on the basis of information provided by the security services. These could involve surrendering passports, curfews, electronic tagging, reporting regularly to the police, limits on use of the telephone and internet, and house arrest.
The Labour government has already added extensive anti-terrorist legislation to the array of legal measures introduced by previous governments. These new proposals reflect the ruling class’s constant concern to have whatever devices it needs to protect its interests. It needs to deal with the potential threat from hostile imperialisms; it is also concerned about the threat of the struggles of the working class, and the activity of revolutionaries who work with the perspective of the overthrow of capitalism.
The latest proposals are not exceptional when you consider the automatic introduction of internment that happens in wartime, or during other periods of ‘emergency’. You could also recall what the British government has done at various times during the last 35 years in Northern Ireland, in particular during the 1970s and 80s, when it used the area as a training ground for actions it might want to take elsewhere. Internment, torture, experiments with a range of brutal interrogation techniques, surveillance, secret agents and a shoot-to-kill policy have all been employed by British governments.
And yet, along side the usual complaints from human rights lawyers and civil libertarians on the left there has been opposition from the Tories and others on the right. Of course they all have their own favourite repressive measures they would prefer to introduce, but it’s significant that they feel it necessary to express hesitations.
Obviously, we’re probably in a pre-election period, but there’s more to it than that.
The Lib Dems say that the plans are “wholly unacceptable” and worry that Britain would be out of step with Europe. Meanwhile the Tories think that Labour is taking a “dangerous path” and that it’s important to protect “the British way of life”.
Simon Jenkins in The Times (28/1/5) thinks internment without trial “stinks”. He draws comparisons with Hitler in 1933 and 34 . He says that “Mr Clarke wants to put under house arrest any people he considers a menace, be they Muslims, Irish or animal rights activists”. He ridicules Clarke’s claim that there are people who want “to kill hundreds and thousands of people who are innocent of everything”. Clarke “knows who they are from ‘secret intelligence’ which he cannot divulge to anyone” . During the last two years intelligence has been used “as an agency of public fear”. We have been threatened by ‘intelligence’ with “sarin, anthrax, smallpox and nuclear attack”, not to mention the “dodgy dossiers”. Warming to his attack Jenkins says that “For Mr Clarke to demand pre-emptive imprisonment on a par with what was used during the Second World War is an insult to history”.
The bourgeois figures who have expressed ‘opposition’ to Labour’s latest proposals have no disagreement with the basic principle that the capitalist state defends ruling class interests with every means at its disposal. But they also know that the bourgeoisie rules with ideological weapons as well as with state repression. Jingoism and xenophobia are used by the capitalist class at certain points, but at present it’s the ‘defence of democracy’ that’s the main plank of bourgeoisie propaganda.
So, with the arguments over control orders, opposition focuses on the ‘rule of law’, habeas corpus, ‘ancient liberties’ and all the hocus pocus of bourgeois law. Not only is the state refining and extending its weapons against the threat of the class struggle, it also wants us to rally to the defence of the democratic state. Workers need to recognise that their class interests and their class struggle bring them into conflict with the capitalist state, whether it’s trading under a democratic or authoritarian label. The repressive measures taken by the bourgeoisie, internment in Belmarsh prison or in Guantanamo Bay, are not blemishes on the face of democracy but integral to capitalism’s democratic dictatorship. Car 4/2/5