Magazine article The Spectator

The Politics of Terror

Magazine article The Spectator

The Politics of Terror

Article excerpt

When history comes to make a final judgment on the Blair government -- and we can be forgiven for hoping that moment is not too much longer delayed -- there is one key statistic by which to assess the Prime Minister's performance. Since 1997 the Labour government has created no fewer than 700 new criminal offences. This is supposed to be an age of increasing peace and prosperity. Yet the Labour party has been in such a continuous panic about the behaviour and potential behaviour of the British people that it has found 700 new ways in which to proscribe courses of conduct. In case you are wondering how that compares with any previous administration, Labour is creating criminal offences at a rate ten times greater than that of any other government.

This might not in itself be a bad thing, if society were plagued by a wholly new set of evils. But far too many of these laws are either vexatious, or else they are unnecessary since the problems they are intended to address are already covered by existing statute. The Terrorism Bill is a perfect example of both vices. We have already discussed the absurdity of the clause on encouragement or glorification of terrorism, which would seem to catch Cherie Blair's apparently sympathetic words about the predicament of Palestinian suicide bombers.

Charles Clarke's answer has been to assert -- without any supporting argument -- that the law would not be used in such cases.

If that is so, people are entitled to ask what Labour understands by a law. Is it there to be enforced to the letter? Or is it just a kind of cosmic yelp, a gush of parliamentary feeling, not to be taken seriously by the criminal justice system? The paragraphs on encouragement and glorification are either odious and foolish, and theoretically liable to criminalise people who express opinions about the removal of some of the vilest regimes in the world. Or else they are simply redundant, since the present law on incitement is quite powerful enough.

The truth is that the government doesn't really mind much about the detail of the law. They care far more that in the aftermath of the London bombings they should be seen to be 'doing something' about the 'preachers of hate', even if that means doing something absurd.

Does anyone in their right mind believe that the law on 'glorification' will make Britain a safer place? Of course not, and the same point can be made, alas, about the plan to detain suspects without trial for 90 days. …

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