What Use Is the Freedom to Come under Attack?; the Terrorist Crisis: Those Who Fear Losing Their Civil Rights in the Fight against Terrorism Ignore the Fact That the World Has Changed, Says George Walden

Article excerpt

Byline: GEORGE WALDEN

DAVID BLUNKETT'S promise in Brighton yesterday to protect human rights while toughening laws against terrorism will do little to reassure the civil liberties lobby.

To listen to some you would think we were more at risk from New Labour and its designs on our freedoms than from the perpetrators of terror. I am alarmed by the moral conceit and neoimperialistic afflatus of Tony Blair's conference speech, and I see no benefit, only needlessly enhanced risks, in Britain getting ahead of the Americans in dealing with the Taliban, but I do not believe the Prime Minister is conspiring to do our liberties down.

When Blair and Blunkett insist that the Government must have the legal powers it needs to protect us I am naive enough to believe them. I assume that what they know makes them worry about terrorists abusing our asylum system, our unfettered free speech, our lack of identity cards and grossly indulgent extradition procedures to murder thousands of our people.

The civil liberties lobby's response to the attack on America was the same as to any act of terror: human rights are what distinguish us from them, we must not lower ourselves to their level, any curtailing of civil liberties-would be a victory for the terrorists.

Blunkett's confirmation that ID cards are still on the long-term agenda will excite more criticism. The most persuasive case against them is one of practice rather than of principle - what would they do to help? - yet listen to some of the exotic arguments that are used on the civil liberties front.

In Brighton the campaigns director of Liberty, Mark Littlewood, warned that ID cards could be used by the police to check up on the identity of demonstrators. But the police are not that keen on ID cards - one of the reasons they are on the back burner.

Bill Morris sees them as "the seed for tomorrow's two-tiered society with entitlement cards for those with full citizen rights while access to services is denied to asylum seekers" - whom the Government would presumably be happy to see expire on the streets. Meanwhile it is gravely objected that action to stop Muslim clerics preaching mass murder-could have led to the prosecution of Salman Rushdie. …