Received this from an expatriot who lives in New Zealand!
Sent: Sunday, June 29, 2008 8:22 AM
Subject: Re: Truly extraordinary times!!
Left supports Right defending liberty
By Tony Benn
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 29/06/2008
Libertarians from the Left and Right sometimes meet in the middle against
an authoritarian state. In 1961, having served for 10 years as an MP for
Bristol South East, I was declared disqualified because my father had been
a peer and he had died. It was argued that I had inherited his peerage.
A by-election was called, and, despite my disqualification, I decided to
contest it to argue a point of principle. Winston Churchill, the former
Conservative Prime Minister, sent me a letter of support for which I am,
this day, most grateful.
I must be the only Labour candidate who has ever circulated 30,000 copies
of a letter from a Tory leader to my constituents. The law that prevented me
sitting in the Commons was later changed as a result of that by-election. So
when I heard that David Davis was standing in the Haltemprice and Howden
by-election, I decided to support him. I hope the Government’s move towards
42 days’ detention without charge, recently passed in the House of Commons,
will be stopped as a result of his campaign. The civil liberties issues on
which Mr Davis stands are important to the future of this country. Last
Friday I attended a conference organised by Lincoln Cathedral on Magna
Carta, an original of which they hold. Magna Carta had nothing to do with
democracy, but one phrase in it has registered worldwide: “no man shall be
taken [and] imprisoned. except by the lawful judgement of his peers.”
For many years the Labour government has boasted about the traditional
values and freedoms of this country; and yet, when its MPs voted to amend
the Terrorism Act and permit 42 days in prison without charge, they
effectively repealed Magna Carta. Such a law would mean that people could be
imprisoned for six weeks, then released without charge or trial but also
without ever being properly acquitted: a cloud of suspicion would remain.
It is also clear that anyone released after such a period would almost
certainly find their life destroyed, with their job lost and real risk posed
to any prospect of future employment.
There are two other critical ways in which liberties are being eroded,
both highlighted by Mr Davis. The first is identity cards. I have no
objection to them in principle,
because in the course of my life I have held many cards with my photo, name
and profession printed on them. What matters more is the huge database being
established in concert with ID cards, on which will be gathered every bit of
information that it is possible to collect. It may contain your financial
status, political opinions, email contacts and more – no one will really
know what is on that database.
Indeed, the information held may be inaccurate. When I recently renewed my
passport, I noticed that I am still described as a Member of Parliament.
If the Government does not know that I am not an MP seven years after I
stepped down, it does not inspire confidence that a more wide-ranging
identity database would be very reliable. The information may leak, and it
would be valuable for commercial and other purposes, including fraud and
terrorism. Despite the guarantees of
ministers, and regardless of whatever safeguards are promised, we know from
recent examples that information held by the Government can escape. Second,
the Lisbon Treaty diminishes the sovereign powers of British democracy,
which belong to the people and are lent to MPs. MPs have no right to dispose
of them to the EU.
The Irish have defeated the Lisbon Treaty democratically, and Britain was
denied a referendum on the Treaty only because it was clear that the
Government would be defeated on it here. Because the people are sovereign,
governments get their powers from us; we do not get our rights from them.
This issue is becoming crucial because the centralisation of power to
political elites is a threat to our freedom and democracy.
The Haltemprice by-election is taking place because Mr Davis gave up his
seat and possible position in any future Conservative government to seek his
contituents’ verdict on these issues.
The fact that the Labour party has decided not to contest the seat
indicates that it knows that it cannot win the argument on 42 days. I
believe that Mr Davis’s stand may do something to restore public confidence
in politics and politicians. If, as is expected, he wins, it will confirm
the judgment he made on the 42 days and will also destroy the argument that
the public really supports these oppressive measures. If the Lords, as
expected, also rejects 42 days, it would be a constitutional outrage to use
the Parliament Act to enforce the will of the Commons on the second
It is on the single, but vital, issue of civil liberties that I decided to
support David Davis.