Tag Archives: Terrorism Act

two important campaigns aiming to protect our civil liberties: stop the gagging law & review Schedule 7

On August 30th I received a message from the campaign group 38 Degrees about another major government assault on our civil liberties and right to protest. The message began as follows:

I’ve just got back from my summer holiday. I read last week’s email, “38 Degrees under threat”, whilst I was away camping. [1] Not exactly what you want to see when you’re trying to relax!

I must admit I hoped I’d get back in the office and find my colleagues had been guilty of some exaggeration. I’ve spent the last couple of days speaking to lawyers and other experts, to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

I’m afraid it’s really bad. The proposed gagging law would have a chilling effect on British democracy and our right to speak up on issues that matter to us.

The draft law could effectively stop organisations like 38 Degrees from speaking out for the whole year before a general election. From May 2014, we would be banned from holding politicians and political parties to account in ways we do all the time at present. [2]

Community groups, charities and campaigning organisations would all be hit. On the big issues of the day – whether or not to go to war, the future of our NHS, the environment, welfare, immigration, etc – we’d all be gagged.

Why are they proposing this? It’s hard to say for sure. Maybe it’s an unintended consequence of a badly written draft law. Or maybe it’s a deliberate attempt by politicians to silence their critics.

Either way, they’re trying to rush it through. MPs have their first chance to debate it this coming Tuesday, with crunch votes lined up for soon after that. [3]

Please can you help stand up for democracy and send an urgent email to your MP now?
https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/gagging-bill-MPs

Notes:

[1] 38 Degrees Blog: 38 Degrees under threat http://blog.38degrees.org.uk/2013/08/22/38-degrees-under-threat/
[2] BWB legal opinion http://www.bwbllp.com/knowledge/2013/08/29/bwb-warns-new-laws-on-non-party-campaigners-pose-a-serious-threat/
[3] Bill documents — Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill 2013-14 http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2013-14/transparencyoflobbyingnonpartycampaigningandtradeunionadministration/documents.html

38 Degrees also produced their own short film with contributions from Guido Fawkes, Friends of the Earth, Baston Legal & HOPE not hate, which is entitled “What is the Gagging Law?” and embedded below:

And here is further information about the bill with links

News Coverage:

BBC – Lobbying bill could silence us, say charities
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23808996
Charity lawyer warns new lobbying bill poses ‘existential threat to charity campaigning
http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/governance/news/content/15918/charity_lawyer_warns_new_lobbying_bill_poses_existential_threat_to_charity_campaigning
The Independent View: Concerns about lobbying bill are not alarmist
http://www.libdemvoice.org/the-independent-view-its-not-alarmist-to-raise-concerns-about-government-plans-for-nonparty-campaigning-35927.html

Reports from experts:

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has made a statement on the bill:
Transparency of Lobbying Bill – unintended consequences or Trojan horse?
http://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2013/08/18/transparency-of-lobbying-bill-unintended-consequences-or-trojan-horse/

And here is a full briefing on the bill from the NCVO:
http://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/our-briefing-on-the-Transparency-of-lobbying-bill.pdf

The Electoral Commission has said it has “significant concerns” about the bill and that it “may be unenforceable”.
http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/156580/Transparency-of-Lobbying-Non-Party-Campaigning-and-Trade-Union-Administration-Bill-Second-Reading-Briefing.pdf

Then, Thursday [Sept 19th], I received the following update from 38 Degrees which includes a very detailed breakdown regarding the various claims now being made by the government in its response to opponents of the proposed legislation:

In three weeks, MPs have their final vote on the gagging law – a law that would mean ordinary people, campaigning groups and charities would be severely restricted in how they can campaign in the year leading up to an election.

The most recent debate was last Tuesday, and we lost a key vote by only a whisker – if just 16 more government MPs had switched sides, a key part of the gagging law would have been defeated. [1]

The growing MP rebellion was in part thanks to you – tens of thousands of 38 Degrees members flooded MPs with emails, phone calls and tweets. 80 local groups of 38 Degrees members went to see their MP face-to-face. Together, we proved that ordinary people are prepared to fight for their right to campaign on important issues.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs are clearly feeling the heat: a growing number of them have started trying to fob us off. They’ve started making all sorts of claims about what the law will and won’t do. They say we have nothing to worry about.

Ros Baston, an independent political law and election solicitor, has taken a look at some of the most common lines MPs have been using when responding to 38 Degrees members and written a detailed document. [2] Here’s 38 Degrees take on that document and why we still think we have something to worry about.

Myth 1: The new law will stop “big money” buying / influencing elections.
The government claims that this law is needed to stop US-style “super-PACs”, run by millionaires, flooding the airwaves with negative political advertising. But they can’t point to any examples of millionaire-backed “super-PACS” in the UK actually existing. Perhaps that’s because we already have laws banning big money radio and TV advertising.

The way “big money” actually influences elections in the UK is through massive donations to political parties. That’s a huge problem, with wealthy donors basically buying influence and peerages. The gagging law does nothing to stop this – millionaire party donors like Lord Ashcroft or Lord Sainsbury can continue to funnel as much cash into their chosen party as they like.

If the government really wanted to stop “big money” influencing politics, they could introduce a maximum donation limit for both political parties and independent groups. That would tackle the current problem and prevent any future rise in “super-PACs”, and it’s a measure 38 Degrees members would certainly support. Why are they instead targeting charities, community groups and campaigners?

Myth 2. Civil society will still be allowed to talk about issues – as long as they don’t get involved in party politics.
Important issues which ordinary people care about, like trying to protect the NHS, will be a key election issue for most of the political parties. The gagging law would apply to campaigning on most issues that are being contested by different political parties – i.e. any big issue of the day! For example, if one political party made privatising NHS services a key part of its manifesto, then a 38 Degrees campaign against privatising the NHS would be considered ‘for election purposes’ and be subject to the gagging law. [3]

Myth 3. £390,000 is a lot of money. Why should organisations be allowed to spend more?
In a free society, charities, local groups and ordinary people should be able to come together and campaign effectively. £390,000 is only 2% of what political parties are allowed to spend. Also, the new law says that charities and campaign groups will have to include core staff costs in this limit – something political parties aren’t expected to do.

Groups like 38 Degrees don’t need as much money as political parties – we rely on people power rather than expensive advertising agencies. But organising people power does cost some money. 38 Degrees currently costs around £1.1 million per year to run – money spent on maintaining a powerful and secure web site, a small office, a staff team of 15, printing leaflets and posters, hiring church halls for member meetings, and so on. That’s all funded by small donations (average donation £10.78) and reported in full in the annual audited accounts. [4]

Banning 38 Degrees from spending more than £390,000 would mean big people powered campaigns like Save our NHS or Save our Forests would be impossible to run.

Myth 4. Charities are happy now that some concessions have been promised
This isn’t true. A wide range of organisations including NCVO, Oxfam, Christian Aid, Countryside Alliance and Friends of the Earth are still warning that the gagging law will have a huge impact on what they can campaign on. [5]

MPs have been claiming that NCVO are now happy with the amendments the government has committed to drafting. In fact the NCVO wrote a piece in The Guardian last week highlighting the problems they still think need solving [6]:

“NCVO and the wider voluntary sector have made it clear that the legislation remains ambiguous and potentially damaging in a number of places. In particular:

  • The proposed list of activities that could count towards controlled expenditure remains neither clear nor workable
  • The expenditure thresholds proposed in the new bill, both for registration with the Electoral Commission and as a maximum cap allowed, will be damaging
  • The question of how to sensibly regulate groups working in coalition remains to be addressed.”

The government is rushing the gagging law through parliament, but we now have just over two weeks to try to convince MPs to vote the right way. The office team are working hard to pull together some ideas of ways to beat this law and you’ll get an email about this soon. But if you want to get back in touch with your MP and ask him or her about some of these myths, please click the link below:

https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/gagging-law-email-mp

If your MP has replied to your email about the gagging law and sent through a different claim you’d like help answering, or if you have some ideas on what we should do next in the campaign, then please get in touch at emailtheteam@38degrees.org.uk.

Notes:
[1] The Public Whip: Clause 27 – changes to existing limits: vote breakdown: http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/division.php?date=2013-09-10&number=82
Twitter: Labour Whips twitter posts, 10 Sept: https://twitter.com/labourwhips
[2] Mythbuster document written by Ros Baston, independent political law and election solicitor, and was formerly Lead Adviser on Party and Election Finance at the Electoral Commission: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/-/Ros%20Baston%20MP%20replies%20mythbuster.pdf
[3] Daily Mirror: Lobby bill: Doctors face being gagged from concerns about NHS privatisation:http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/lobby-bill-doctors-face-being-2263099#.UjiWppM9XMo.facebook
[4] Read our donations policy and see our accounts here: http://www.38degrees.org.uk/pages/donations-to-38-degrees
[5] Oxfam: Lobbying Bill represents a real threat to quality of debate in this country: http://www.oxfam.org.uk/blogs/2013/09/lobbying-bill-represents-a-real-threat-to-quality-of-debate-in-this-country-says-oxfam
Christian Aid: Christian Aid remains deeply concerned at Lobbying Bill: http://www.christianaid.org.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/september-2013/christian-aid-remains-deeply-concerned-at-lobbying-bill.aspx
Countryside Alliance: The Alliance’s concerns over the Lobbying Bill: http://www.countryside-alliance.org/ca/communities/the-alliances-concerns-over-the-lobbying-bill
Friends of the Earth: U-turn? Nope, the Gagging Bill still gags us: http://www.foe.co.uk/news/gagging_bill_41124.html
[6] The Guardian: The problems posed by the lobbying bill are not completely solved: http://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2013/sep/13/charities-lobbying-bill-problems-not-solved

*

Meanwhile, another campaign is underway to challenge the increasing use of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which UK human rights group Liberty describes “as a breathtakingly broad and intrusive power to stop, search and hold individuals at ports, airports and international rail stations”:

It can be exercised without the need for any grounds of suspecting the person has any involvement in terrorism – or any other criminal activity. This means it can be used against anyone a police, immigration or customs officer chooses. Powers like this are ripe for overuse and abuse. They are invariably used in discriminatory fashion, with stops based on stereotype rather than genuine suspicion.

Click here to read more about Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 on Liberty‘s website.

A petition calling for a government review of the use of Schedule 7 has been launched by Adeel Akhtar – Akhtar, a stage and screen actor, being perhaps best known for a starring role in the black comedy “Four Lions”, Chris Morris’ satire about a group of Sheffield-based would-be jihadi terrorists.

So far Akhtar’s petition has attracted signatures from over 70,000 supporters. And following the detainment of David Miranda – partner of a Guardian journalist, Glenn Greenwald – Akhtar’s campaign also received a further boost when he was interviewed on the subject by the Huffington Post, Channel 4 News and BBC Breakfast.

MPs are due to review Schedule 7 in October, and Akhtar believes that his change.org campaign may prove crucial in getting the law changed. Before then, he says, he would like the petition to reach 100,000 signatures so that when the time comes, the government will see just how many people are calling for their human rights to be protected.

Click here if you would like to add your own name to this change.org petition calling for the government to review the use of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act.

*

Update:

On Thursday 10th October I received a follow-up email from 38 degrees. It informed me that sadly, though hardly surprisingly, the government yesterday voted in favour of the new legislation. So it has passed the Commons and now awaits progress through the Lords. Here is part of the message I received:

Yesterday evening, MPs narrowly voted in favour of the gagging law. It now moves to the House of Lords, where it will start being debated in two weeks.

So we haven’t yet seen off this threat to democracy. This is disappointing – I’d love to be emailing today to let you know we’d stopped it once and for all. But it’s in no sense the end. By making the vote so close, we’ve got a strong chance of reversing it in the House of Lords.

I wanted to update you on what’s happened and what happens next. And I wanted to ask for your feedback on what we should do next. But above all I wanted to say THANK YOU, for everything that 38 Degrees members have done so far. It’s been truly amazing and has had a huge impact. […]

There was a fiery debate and a big rebellion in parliament yesterday. Only Lib Dem and Conservative MPs voted in favour. In total, across three crunch votes, it looks like 19 coalition MPs rebelled. [1]

To get 19 Lib Dem and Conservative MPs to vote against the gagging law was in no small part down to the amazing efforts of 38 Degrees members. Working together with some of Britain’s most loved voluntary organisations, we made sure every MP felt under pressure.

Several more Lib Dem MPs rebelled compared to previous votes on the gagging law – after 38 Degrees members and many other organisations ramped up the pressure on them. The leaflets, posters, and meetings we organised made a clear difference. […]

So, what will happen next?

In the coming weeks, the gagging law will be voted on by the House of Lords. We need to try to persuade the Lords to get stuck in and block it. I think we can do it. There are reasons why convincing the Lords won’t be that easy:

  • The Lords are unelected. So we can’t try to influence them “as their voters” in the way we can with MPs.
  • A large number of peers are Lib Dems or Conservatives – and they will be under pressure from their party bosses to toe the government line.

But there are also some reasons to be optimistic:

  • Lords tend to be more willing to challenge government legislation when it has been rushed through and where there hasn’t been proper consultation. That definitely applies this time!
  • Many peers are patrons and board members of voluntary organisations and charities which would be hit by the gagging law. This means they should have reason to be concerned.
  • An independent “commission on civil society and democracy” has been set up with the support of dozens of voluntary organisations – and will provide the Lords with serious recommendations. It is chaired by an influential, nonparty Lord – Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford. [2]
  • 38 Degrees members learnt a lot about how to influence members of the House of Lords from our NHS campaign last year. [3]

NOTES:
[1] There were three vital votes in Parliament last night on the gagging law. The first (amendment 101) was a vote on what sort of expenditure would fall within the law, whilst the second (amendment 102) was a vote to raise the spending limits imposed by the law on non-party organisations. The third important vote was the “Third Reading”, which was a vote on the whole gagging law.

On amendment 101, ten Coalition MPs rebelled (7 Conservative and 3 Liberal Democrats). On amendment 102, fourteen Coalition MPs rebelled (10 Conservative and 4 Liberal Democrats). On the Third Reading, eleven Coalition MPs rebelled (4 Conservative and 7 Liberal Democrats).

In total, it looks like nineteen Coalition MPs rebelled on at least one of the important votes (10 Conservatives and 9 Liberal Democrats). The office team will crunch together the data on the various votes over the next few days and send you info on how your MP voted as soon as we’re confident it’s 100% accurate.
[2] Civil Society Commission website: http://civilsocietycommission.info/

[3] Save our NHS action centre: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/pages/save_our_nhs_action_centre

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Filed under Britain, campaigns & events, police state

keep calm and carry on… following orders

A few months ago, as I was out buying some milk from the local convenience store, I was quite stunned to read the headline story in the local paper:

ARMED police forced a busy Sheffield road to close after marksmen swooped on a car while hunting for a suspect.

City Road, between Wulfric Road and Cradock Road, was blocked by police cars holding up trams, buses and motorists.

Eyewitnesses told The Star the officers searched local businesses and police appeared to be focusing on a vehicle on City Road.

Tram passenger Stewart Dalton said his journey was interrupted when an unmarked police car stopped ‘abruptly’ outside a barber’s shop, blocking the tramlines.

He said several other police cars with armed officers arrived ‘within seconds’, and ordered customers out of the shop at gunpoint.1

Another eyewitness, Steve Smith, was also interviewed:

Mr Smith said the police officers arranged themselves in a circle as they surrounded the vehicle.

There were officers with hard hats, big rifles and stun guns. There were a lot of people looking at what was going on.”

Mr Smith added he saw ‘at least three’ marksmen and felt concerned after seeing the incident develop.

I’m quite shocked to see something like this happening,” he said.

Having been shaken a little just reading about such an incident so close to my home, those who actually witnessed the events first-hand must have been shocked in the extreme. Armed police “order[ing] customers out of the shop at gunpoint” to be “frisked and held until the incident was over”. Obviously there was a good reason for this excess show of police force…

A South Yorkshire Police spokeswoman confirmed officers stopped a vehicle on the road yesterday morning ‘in relation to an ongoing policing operation’.

Armed officers assisted as a matter of precaution, the road was temporarily closed for about 30 minutes but was fully re-opened at around 10.40am. No arrests have been made and inquiries continue. Police would like to reassure the public they can safely go about their daily business.”

What? No arrests. And no national news reports. Click here to read the full article in The Star.

I recall this story because I was reminded of it on hearing about the M6 Megabus fiasco on Thursday morning [July 5th]. Here’s the story from BBC news, which begins “Armed police swooped on a coach on the M6 Toll motorway in the West Midlands”2:

[Earlier,] Armed police officers could be seen next to the single-decker coach on the southbound carriageway, as passengers were led off one by one.

Passengers were made to sit on the northbound carriageway, apart from one another, while surrounded by officers.

Sniffer dogs and forensic officers were also brought in to aid the search, as officers in forensic suits and others in military fatigues checked the area.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed military personnel were assisting police, at their request, under routine procedure.

One of the passengers on the bus told the BBC that she had no idea what was going on, that she didn’t see anything supsicious [sic], and wasn’t told why they were pulled over.

She was made to sit cross-legged on the tarmac and still was not told what was happening. She said the whole experience had been very “scary and frightening”.

And the reason this time…?

A police source told BBC Radio WM a passenger was seen pouring a liquid into a box, which then started smoking.

That was enough apparently for calling out police from the West Midlands and Staffordshire forces, not to mention the fire service and ambulance crews. It was enough to close carriageways in both directions on one of our busiest motorways for four hours, to bring in sniffer dogs and forensic teams, and most disturbingly “military personnel [who] were assisting police, at their request, under routine procedure”. Yes, under routine procedure! On this occasion, one of the eyewitnesses, Nick Jones, who was four vehicles behind the coach when police stopped traffic told the BBC:

“I’ve never seen so many ambulances turning up, also armed police, helicopter and dozens of police cars.”

Another eye-witness Barry Jarvis said:

“It was very puzzling as to what was going on at first as there weren’t that many police there.

“It was only after 20 minutes or so when all these unmarked cars [were] coming through that we thought something major was happening.”

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

I think it is fair to conclude that “something major was happening”, but what was the actual reason for such a staggering show of police and military strength. Well, here’s a BBC news article posted just a few hours later:

Staffordshire Police have said they are not linking an incident on the M6 Toll motorway with terrorism.

Superintendent Dave Holdway from Staffordshire police confirmed that no-one was being treated as a suspect and the case was “not being treated as counterterrorism at this time”.3

So no arrests again. But plenty of sound and fury signifying nothing. Then some empty (or should I say ‘robust’) apologies and reassurances that this “multi-agency response” was “swift”, which it was, and “proportionate”, which it blatantly wasn’t.

Click here to read the complete BBC news article and watch video of the police statement.

This latest incident has since caused me to recall a different occasion when the police took exception to a coach load of passengers, although not because “they had received a report from a genuinely concerned member of the public”, but because the passengers in question were heading off for an anti-Iraq War protest outside the RAF Base in Fairford, Gloucestershire. Although the passengers on this occasion [March 2003] represented no threat whatsoever, the coaches were nevertheless held up for two hours by a hundred riot police, whilst the passengers and their possessions were searched under the Terrorism Act. Denied their right to protest they were all then “escorted” back to London.

This incident neatly book-ends Chris Atkins’ excellent film Taking Liberties (released in June 2007 and freely available online). It’s a documentary that should be watched by everyone who is concerned by the on-going erosion of our civil liberties (and that really should be everybody living in Britain right now), and it’s also a film that’s well worth watching a second time, as I discovered a few nights ago:

You can watch the complete documentary here on Ustream (albeit annoyingly interrupted by advert breaks).

Back then, the Terrorism bills were already being used against peaceful dissenters, and this is something I had personally experienced in the days immediately prior to the London bombings.

A mini-G8 summit had come to Sheffield. It was an event that passed off almost unreported but, and in spite of the lack of media exposure, a hundred or so peaceful protesters ventured out into the city centre. Once there, we were confronted by a large number of regular police officers. Police marksmen had also been stationed on many of the rooftops. The regular police formed a line of blue across Fargate, the main shopping street, and for whatever reason (since the site of the actual meeting was unknown to most of us) the protesters assembled in front of them. A little later, three vans filled with riot police pulled up. These promptly disembarked and assembled into another line that looked on menacingly. In the meantime, the main police line allowed protesters and others to cross through but only from one direction. When a friend of mine tried to go back to where he had originally come from, he was told that if he continued he would be arrested. “Under what law?” he’d asked. The Terrorism Act was the answer, of course.

A week or so later, I’d also encountered another high-visibility police presence around the Edinburgh march against the actual G8 summit, with even more marksmen and more officers pointing their cameras towards us. This protest again represented no threat whatsoever to the G8 meeting, which was in any case being held some miles away at Gleneagles. Indeed, it was an almost embarrassingly non-confrontational assembly. What little bite it might have had – and it didn’t have much once the organisers had decided, in their infinite wisdom, to banish politics for the day and focus only on the vacuous demand to “Make Poverty History” – was entirely stolen by Bob Geldof’s simultaneous and self-aggrandising “Live 8” gig. “What the hell was all that about?” I wondered after we’d returned to our hostel – why did any of us even bother to turn out at all? But I am digressing.

Guardian journalist Rachel Shabi wrote a brilliant article previewing the protests at the G8, although one that I came across only later, which perfectly conveyed my feelings at the time. In the same piece, she also detailed the new measures being brought in to stifle “illegitimate” protests (as opposed to the all-too-legitimate protest I’d been a part of), as well as the extraordinary level and cost of security that had been put into place around the Gleneagles summit itself:

We are about to witness how “illegitimate” protest is dealt with at the G8 summit. Already, anti-G8 protesters-to-be say they have been intimidated by police and now fear attending demonstrations. Hundreds of individuals have been filmed going into public meetings held by peaceful protest groups. More have been searched, visited at home, had notes and computers seized, and been offered cash rewards for information on other protesters.

Meanwhile at Gleneagles, rings of steel fencing surround the hotel grounds. More than 10,000 police will be in force, along with a reported 2,000 US marines, an SAS team and specially trained snipers. The area will be riddled with roadblocks and exclusion zones – protesters aren’t allowed to march near the hotel. All this security is estimated to cost around £100m. We can’t tell for sure because there’s a blanket information ban on preparations for the summit.4

As if all of this wasn’t already bad enough, and slap bang in the middle of the G8 summit, we were hit by the London bombings. Blair immediately rushed back to the capital and, before you could say Jack Straw (or on this occasion Charles Clarke), we were being made ready for yet another draft of anti-terrorist legislation: The Terrorism Act 2006. With a few strokes of the pen, still more of our civil liberties had been stolen from us, and all in the name of security.

Comparing these recent incidents to the situation back in 2007, when the horrors of the July 7th bombings of 2005 (which also feature in Atkins’ documentary) were still fresh in our minds, and it’s not difficult to see how the world has changed again. The most staggering example being the security measures at this year’s Olympics. Anti-aircraft missiles on top of London flats and battleships in the Thames. Welcome to Airstrip One!

The Overton Window, that narrow range of ideas that the general public responds to as acceptable, is being stretched again and again, just a little wider each time. A racheting up that started in Britain even before the September 11th attack thanks to Blair’s first Terrorism Act that was passed in 2000. And ever since then, no crisis is wasted, no opportunity missed.

At this point, I’d like to make a comparison. Anyone over the age of about twenty will be uncomfortably familiar with the threat of IRA atrocities. The IRA were a very real and ever-present danger. A group who in October 1984 had bombed the party in government at the Grand Hotel in Brighton and on a second occasion, in February 1991, mortar bombed John Major’s official residence in Downing Street. The ordinary person also had good reason to be concerned, public spaces having been frequently targeted throughout the seventies, eighties and well into the nineties.

Back then our governments had properly advised everyone to keep alert. Keep a look out for unattended luggage; this was the main thing. A few sensible precautions and nothing more. No paranoia descended over our nation. No calls for heavyweight legislation (at least not on the UK mainland). But then, of course, for much of that period we had enough on our minds already with the other very real threat of Cold War annihilation.

So the old bogeyman was the Soviet Union, but that apparently went away – in fact it didn’t, but that’s another story. Meanwhile today’s official bogeyman is al-Qaeda, which is actually quite an improvement when you think about it. After all, al-Qaeda don’t have the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world. They just have a few fanatics with home-made bombs – so just why are we being told to be more afraid than ever?

Since September 11th, right throughout the whole period of this ludicrous “War on Terror”, successive British governments have all been behaving hysterically. Amplifying public fears in order to make wrongful arrest and imprisonment appear justified as necessary evils. This endless war against an altogether nebulous and shape-shifting enemy has also been used to justify and permit such truly Orwellian measures as indefinite detention in places like Guantanamo Bay, where facilities are soon to be upgraded at a cost of $40 million, along with “extraordinary rendition”, which also continues under Obama.

Click here to watch the same interview and read a transcript on the Democracy Now! Website.

When torture becomes permissible on the grounds that it is necessary to defend our freedom then it doesn’t take a genius to understand that we are rapidly approaching the rocky shores of La-La Land. Which brings me back to the events of Thursday morning on the M6. Troops of armed police and military closing a motorway because someone on a coach was looking a bit suspicious, or, as the official story now has it, “smoking a fake cigarette” .

If an emergency response of this kind had happened twenty years ago I feel sure that it would have caused a storm of public outrage. Twenty years ago it would also have been considered absolutely unacceptable for police, let alone military officers, to hold perfectly innocent citizens at gunpoint. These days, however, a lame apology is deemed more than sufficient for the matter to rest. The media are quick to move on, the passengers feel happy just to be alive (or so we are informed), and meanwhile the message has been reinforced that we all just need to “keep calm and carry on… following orders”; the Overton Window having been pushed an inch or two wider again.

Fear, Joseph Goebbals once said, was the approach the Nazis had used to keep control of the German people. A cast-iron way of controlling the masses, it was fear that helped to instill compliance and stifle the voice of all who opposed the tightening bonds of tyranny. Fostering fear was simply the easiest and most effective way to keep the people in their boxes. It still is.

1 From an article entitled “Police marksmen swoop on car”, written by Richard Blackledge, published in The Star on March 8, 2012. http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/local/police-marksmen-in-swoop-on-car-1-4322525

2 From an article entitled “M6 Toll Megabus coach stopped by armed police”, published by BBC News on July 5, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-18719962

3 From an article entitled “M6 Toll Megabus alert: ‘Not terrorist attack’”, published on BBC News on July 5, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18725577

4 From an article entitled “The war on dissent”, written by Rachel Shabi, published in the Guardian on July 2, 2005. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2005/jul/02/development.g8

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Britain, police state, September 11th, USA