When I’m not happily drinking beer, I’m increasingly concerned about the systematic undermining of our civil liberties in the name of the prevention of terrorism. As every half-decent stand-up comedian in the country is quipping at the moment: “We cannot let terrorists take away our freedoms – we’ve gotta do it first.”
I’m not the first writer to see a link between beer and pubs and fighting for freedom – many revolutionary and workers’ rights movements met in pubs when they were not allowed to meet anywhere else, and George Orwell saw the pub as the last bastion of freedom away from the prying eyes of government. But that’s another story, and I’m just trying to justify writing about this on my blog. Maybe I’m going to need a separate political blog like BLTP.
Anyway, many people in the UK still don’t realise that the police have been given powers of random stop and search and detention without charge. Your brain doesn’t want to accept it, because powers like that would mean we are living in a police state. Well guess what? We are.
The s44 Terrorism Act 2000 act gives the police powers to:
- Stop and search people and vehicles for anything that could be used in connection with terrorism
- Search people even if they do not have evidence to suspect them
- Hold people for up to a month without charge
- Search homes and remove protesters’ outer clothes, such as hats, shoes and coats.
Let’s be clear: they have the power to do this to you whoever you are, just because they decide they want to. You don’t have to be acting in a suspicious, terrorist-like way, or commit the crime of travelling on public transport with a rucksack and brown skin. “Anything that could be used in connection with terrorism” – you mean like a car, or a rucksack, or more than 100mls of liquid in a container, or chapatti flour… it could be applied to anything.
Everyone wants terrorism defeated, but when civil liberties groups protest against measures like this, it’s because once granted, these powers may be misused – that is, used for purposes other than defeating terrorism. Because clearly that would be wrong. That would be using a climate of fear in order to erode civil liberties and increase government and police power across the board, with the overall aim of keeping the population cowed.
Whenever anyone protests about this they are dismissed as a paranoid conspiracy theorist who hasn’t got their priorities right. “But we’d never misuse these powers!” the authorities protest. “Look at us, we’re nice guys. Cross our hearts and hope to die, we will only ever use these powers to fight terrorism. It. Would. Never. Happen.”
Cut to today’s Guardian: the government are encouraging the police to use stop and search and detention without charge… against climate change protesters. Why? Because climate change protesters might blow shit up? No – because they might exacerbate delays at Heathrow.
Now, I wouldn’t want to be delayed while going on my holidays either, but if I am flying off somewhere, I think it’s right that I should have to go past a bunch of people pointing out what my flight was doing to the atmosphere. It might make me think a little before booking the next one. But those protesters now face the full might of anti-terror law.
The arrests have already started. According to the Guardian article, one protester has already been arrested under anti-terrorism powers. Her terrorist crime? Riding a bicycle, near Heathrow.
Perhaps they were worried that, inspired by 9/11, or by that mad fucker in Glasgow last month, she might crash her pushbike into the terminal, causing massive explosions and unimaginable loss of life. Perhaps the reason British troops could be on the ground in Afghanistan for another thirty years (The Soviet Empire failed to defeat the Taliban – it’s almost cute we think we’ll be able to) is that the Taliban have employed mass fleets of bikes, with wicker basket mounted rocket launchers, or bells with a specially modified ding-ding sound that disrupts human brain waves.
After holding her for thirty hours, they of course dropped the terrorist charges (because, in fact, she wasn’t a terrorist after all – funny that) and re-charged her with the crime – and this really is a crime, apparently – intention to cause a public nuisance. Now. If that really is a crime – and Gods help us, it seems like it is – and you were to compile a most wanted list, and you went around arresting people in the order of how big a public nuisance they were intending to create, just how many people would you arrest before you got down as far as a woman riding a bicycle near Heathrow?
I’m sure the families who live under the flight path would like to see BA’s top executives arrested on these grounds well ahead of the woman on a bike near their houses, and given that they are “the public” nearest to Heathrow, maybe we should let them decide. We could arrest Pete Doherty every time he plays a concert, as well as all the other times. James Blunt. Big Brother contestants. Jodie Marsh. Jose Mourinho. Simon Cowell. That sinner/winner bloke on Oxford Street (though I hear he has in fact been ASBO’d). Richard Littlejohn. Jordan and Peter Andre. All these people regularly cause a public nuisance and as far as I know, they have never been arrested for it. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time.
It’s funny how some people can sound a bit bonkers until they are proven right. Welcome to the police state.
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