Bitching Brew

Monday, November 14, 2005

You, madam, are a disgrace.

They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.

- Benjamin Franklin

You may have heard that Tony Blair suffered a minor defeat last week in the British parliament. His government wished to allow police to hold terrorist suspects for 90 days without charge, a massive increase from the previous 14-day rule. That proposal was defeated in a vote, and a compromise of 28 days was reached.

I'm very uncomfortable with giving the executive powers to hold suspects without trial. We've seen time and again that the majority of these suspects are released without charge. Witness Guantanamo Bay. (Oh wait, most of them haven't been released.) There do exist circumstances where a short detention can be justified - e.g. in order to prevent an impending attack. But every law is an infringement of liberty. Thus it must be proportionate and measured. 90 days?! Ridiculous. Of course the police asked for 90 days. It's the nature of the police and military to seek greater powers! After all, we do task them with ensuring our security; they'd be remiss in not seeking the means to carry out their jobs effectively. But they are not the lawmakers. And - critical as it is - the primary task of a government in a liberal democracy is not to ensure security. It is trumped by the government's constitutional duty to promote and defend the liberty of the citizen. Thus a legislature must, for each situation, weigh up and balance concerns of liberty vis-à-vis security (the former cannot exist without the latter) - but this does not mean giving the benefit of the doubt to the security forces.

Luckily, Britain still has a parliament occasionally capable of saying no to the executive. (First time in Blair's 'presidency' though - another embarrassment.) The Irish legislature, for example, has degenerated to nothing more than an overpaid rubber-stamping unit.

Yet in today's Guardian, a Labour MP, Kitty Ussher, has produced quite an extraordinary article. It's well-written in parts, and she makes a reasonable case, though I totally disagree with her. But what an outrageous and cheap political assertion she makes! Read below:

Let's be clear about this: this country is a less safe place because of the actions of the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and, yes, a minority of our own side, last Wednesday. I very much hope that we will never have another terrorist atrocity in Britain. But if we do, and if it happens because the police have not had sufficient time to accumulate enough evidence to charge the perpetrators, then the Tories, the Lib Dems and our own rebels will have blood on their hands.

Tories and Liberals voted to make the country a more dangerous place in order to score a cheap political point over the prime minister. A small minority of our own side - for whatever spurious reason - did the same. So, as I said at the outset, in the horrific event of a crisis that I hope will never happen, it'll be their fault, not mine.

That is vile. If another bombing does happen (sadly, it probably will), it will not have been your fellow MPs who concocted the plan, funded it, planted the explosives and detonated them. And you accuse the opposition of scoring a "cheap political point"? What exactly are you doing, pray tell? You wrote that the majority of British MPs voted against this measure purely to spite Blair - not because they thought the proposal illiberal and excessive! The parliament's role in this case is to scrutinise the legislation and approve it or reject it on its merits. Not to rubber-stamp! For once, they did not follow the lead from Number 10 - for once, they carried out their job admirably - yet you denounce them for this!

Of all the nerve - to score a cheap, stinking political shot on your opponents by accusing them of the same. I wonder does Ms. Ussher think she has blood on her hands? She participated in a few votes which indirectly or otherwise led to deaths. Leaving aside Iraq etc. (because in fairness, you weren't an MP until 2005), what about the case of the Brazilian chap on the Tube? An innocent man, shot to death! Who authorised that 'shoot-to-kill' policy, eh? Following your line of reasoning, Kitty, every police officer, civil servant and legislator who voted to authorise that (or failed to repeal it) - somewhere along the line, directly or indirectly - has blood on their hands. What do you think of that, hmm?

Reasonable people can disagree on that 90-day proposal; I'm not attacking you for disagreeing with me. But that cheap political smear is something else entirely. You've been in Westminster six months now: that's six months too long.

You're a disgrace to your parliament.


I hold UK citizenship, but since I haven't lived there in 17 years, I'll not bother a lowly MP on a (relatively) minor issue. But if you're a British resident and voter, then feel free to let the honourable Member of Parliament know what you think. Here: you can email her office at

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  • Benjamin Franklin is misspelled in your quote.

    I would have to say that the Galloway contingent is without a doubt out to get Blair and so are many Conservatives and leftwing Labour party members. The excessive criticism of him flies in the face of his humanitarianism.

    However, I find the compromise of 28 days to be satisfactory.

    Unfortunately, most terrorists do not have a criminal record which makes it very difficult to find terrorists and prevent their attacks.

    Any government under terrorist attack deserves the support of his people. In a democracy the forces of check and balance rule supreme especially in this environment of anti-Blair hysteria.

    By Blogger Freedomnow, at Mon Nov 14, 07:33:00 p.m.  

  • thanks for the correction

    By Blogger Freedomnow, at Tue Nov 15, 06:25:00 p.m.  

  • Haven't had a lot of time to update this in the last week. Yup, thanks for the spelling tip: an embarrassing typo!

    I have no time for Mr. Galloway. Yet I think a lot of the criticism of Blair is fair - though far too much of it is made up of ad hominem attacks. Similarly with Bush. Criticise the policies, not the man. That's a general rule: of course there's room for exceptions. I think Ussher crossed the line, for example. Those smears weren't policy arguments.

    28 days is an acceptable compromise, given that there's a sunset clause on the bill. It was a combination of government arrogance and hubris that led them to propose 90 days.

    We should always defend checks and balances - no matter what the situation. They're especially important in a time of war and/or conflict. Yes, a country needs to pull together to deal with terrorism. But let's never overstate the danger; terrorism's potency comes from its psychological effects - not physical casualties. In the US and Europe, car accidents and suicides kill many more. So while we must be vigilant, and give the state leeway to provide appropriate protection, a long-term climate of fear is unwarranted. (Short-term fear is, of course, a natural emotional response.) Many actors would like to create a climate of fear though - and they've been successful for short spells in recent years.

    Thanks for the comment!

    By Blogger Martin, at Wed Nov 16, 12:50:00 p.m.  

  • Martin,

    You are right that it is absolutely important to defend the checks and balances system provided in democratic society. It keeps our countries healthy.

    Getting to the said that Ussher's smears weren’t policy arguments. Well she made the criticism that partisan politics got in the way of making policy. That is a legitimate criticism.

    The police officials who authorized the shoot to kill policy didn’t do so to spite the opposition.

    By Blogger Freedomnow, at Wed Nov 16, 04:52:00 p.m.  

  • FN, It might be a legitimate criticism (all criticism is legitimate, IMO, if not fair or justified) - but she hasn't backed it up. There's no evidence to justify it. Past parliamentary votes on related issues don't indicate pure, naked partisanship. Perhaps it was a factor in some MPs' reasoning - but certainly not all, which is what she claimed. Her assertion, as contained within the article, is completely groundless. It's political puff; it has no more substance than a statement reading "Geroge Bush hates blacks".

    The 'blood on your hands' thing is just off-the-wall. Not only is it morally dubious, you can't say something like that without even a smidgen of evidence. And I agree, I don't attach moral blame to those police officials. It's merely a (bad?) example of where such sweeping generalisations can lead. (My analogies do, admittedly, deteriorate with lack of sleep!) There's no subtlety in Ussher's arguments - they're broad, ill-defined strokes.

    My point here is that you have to separate the criticism of the vote - fair or unfair - from the stupid moral rhetoric which accompanied it.

    By Blogger Martin, at Thu Nov 17, 02:58:00 p.m.  

  • Martin,

    Critics of Blair and Bush habitually use casualties that result from terrorism as pawns against their leaders.

    Ussher is fed up with this underhanded blame game and fighting back. You can call Ussher's comments hateful, but are they really? Is it hateful to defend yourself? We can only take so much abuse. Al-Qaeda and Iraqi Baathists are dedicated to creating as much misery for civilians as possible. Critics have the luxury of denouncing terrorism and supporting one of its aims (to discredit the coalition).

    When Conservatives (the party of Thatcher) started calling Blair "Bush's lapdog" I knew something terrible was happening in the nature of politics.

    A dirty war of words full of unfair hatefulness...

    By Blogger Freedomnow, at Thu Nov 17, 04:53:00 p.m.  

  • I never said her comments were hateful.

    She wasn't defending herself - rather she was defending her government's proposal (and implicitly, its other policies). Ussher's a newbie politically - only elected six months ago. No-one had heard of her until this article; indeed, few even noticed it. That's why I wrote about it. She hadn't been attacked before this, and no-one had threatened to; thus she wasn't defending herself. A conjecture: it's likely that Labour HQ assigned her to write the article, for the dual reasons of defending the policy and raising her profile. But whether she was assigned or not, commissioned by a contact in the Guardian, or submitted it off her own bat, both reasons still hold true. That's politics for ya.

    Who's "we"? She doesn't speak for all supporters of the war. I'm not arguing about the rights and wrongs of the war here. That would take an awful lot of posts, which have all been written thousands of times by thousands of writers! :)

    I'm criticising an ad hominem attack, which merely cheapens political debate even further. It would be understandable, if unjustified, for the likes of Blair and Bush to respond in that way to critics. They have been subjected to abuse. Not her.

    Reasonable people both supported and opposed the war initially. Both were reasonable positions, given the information then available to people. We shouldn't forget that. But it is legitimate to cross-examine those who made decisions, particularly those who had more information than most. Leaving aside the moral calculus, politics and intelligence are (or should be) a results-driven business. That goes for the initial intelligence, the decisions made leading up to the war, and the management of the ongoing war.

    Also, most reasonable people (including myself) agree that the terrorists are scum. But - be careful to distinguish between terrorists and insurgents. There is a moral difference between those who target civilians, and those who target occupying troops. The media and government like to cloud that issue.

    This is coming from someone who'd like to see the insurgents (and terrorists) defeated. I don't support the taking of any lives in Iraq. Sometimes it's necessary to shoot the terrorists; fair enough. The terrorists will not be part of any future Iraq. But the insurgents will have to be accommodated somehow, e.g. al-Sadr's 'army'. Like it or not, they represent a large minority of public opinion that can't be ignored in a post-war settlement.

    By Blogger Martin, at Tue Nov 22, 12:09:00 p.m.  

  • Martin,

    Ussher is an ally of Blair. She is supporting him. Lets not argue over the definition of "we" or who has the right to speak for who. Everyone has the right to speak their mind, as long as they dont hurt anyone.

    To say that Ussher cheapens debate when the critics of the Iraqi liberation have heaped more abuse on the liberators than opressors like Hussein and Zarqawi doesnt hold any weight.

    If you have any understanding of the US military's procedures they actually prefer to capture terrorists because that can lead to more information to capture more terrorists. The problem is that terrorists are suicidal so they have to use their discretion in attempting to capture these homicidal maniacs.

    Please dont lose sight of the fact that the first US Director of the Coalition Authority, Jay Garner, actually included many Baathists in his administration but was passionately opposed by the Shi'a on this issue, so when Paul Bremer took over he changed the policy to accomodate the wishes of the Shi'a majority.

    The complexity of politics in Iraq is one of the reasons why the US foolishly refrained from removing Hussein from power after the 1st Gulf war. It was the biggest mistake in US history...

    By Blogger Freedomnow, at Mon Nov 28, 05:35:00 p.m.  

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