Banking Excess May Save Us from the Police State; New Armoury: The Battle against Terrorism Must Be Fought in Hearts and Minds, and Using the Ordinary Powers of Our Criminal Law

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THIS week, we witnessed the hopefully permanent collapse of not one but two discredited philosophies based on excess, unaccountability and greed. On the very same day that a once-rampant financial establishment found itself on state welfare, the rampant British security establishment suffered its own, equally deserved humiliation.

As the Government surveys the wreckage of its long struggle to imprison people for 42 days without charge, the defeat should bring a re-think on security every bit as profound and as necessary as the one about finance a few ministries to the east.

The bankers took risks with our economy out of corporate and personal greed for profits, bonuses and sports cars. But the securocrats risked something even more important, our very freedom as a society, out of political and bureaucratic greed for power, results and the imprimatur of toughness.

The bankers blindsided us with incomprehensible financial instruments. The securocrats traded in off-the-record mumblings about unspecified dastardly threats. Whenever the alleged threats were scrutinised in court, or by a judicial inquiry such as Lord Butler's, they always turned out somewhat less dastardly than claimed.

It all started with the security industry's own, only too horribly literal Big Bang September 11, 2001. Exactly as al Qaeda planned, 9/11 led the Government down a slippery slope, gradually dismantling ever more of the liberal, democratic state the terrorists so loathed.

So they gave us control orders where first foreign, and then British, nationals could be locked up indefinitely without even knowing the evidence against them. They gave us extraordinary rendition; the CIA snatch planes, taking suspects to be tortured, used British soil, despite repeated ministerial denials.

They gave us no-proof-required asset confiscation orders, which ended up being used against Icelandic banks; noevidence-needed extradition treaties which ended up being used against people in the City; and detention powers which ended up being used against peaceful demonstrators, such as a pensioner who shouted "Shame" during the Labour conference.

Above all, they kept trying to give us extended detention-without-charge, the everlasting Duracell bunny of antiterror legislation, the one based not on the European Convention on Human Rights but on the Wile E Coyote Law of Cartoon Physics (every time it was flattened in a head-on collision with Parliament, it would simply pop straight back to life).

The power was first demanded, as 90 days, in August 2005. It was excessive; no other democracy asked for anything like it. The struggle has consumed more than three years of ministerial and official time. And at no point over that period has any minister or official ever been able convincingly to explain why.

It has damaged two prime ministers, three home secretaries and a Metropolitan Police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, whose decision to send his officers into the Commons to lobby for 90 days marked the beginning of the end for him.

Just as the financial crisis is raising Gordon Brown's stock, at least for now, so the 7/7 bombings briefly restored Tony Blair's authority. …


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