Matthew Dancona

The case for 56 days

The case for 56 days
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Following my Sunday Telegraph column yesterday, I debated the Government’s plans to extend the pre-charge detention period from 28 days with Henry Porter at the end of the Today programme this morning. I was for, Henry was against. 

I don’t like any restriction upon liberty, but I do not think this extension is being sought recklessly or for political effect. If anything, it is a terrible political gamble for Gordon Brown, whose Government is proceeding shambolically and is nowhere near achieving a consensus in the Commons. So I disagree fundamentally with Henry’s contention that this is all just a “virility test” for the PM, who is appealing to the “unlettered” part of the electorate or grandstanding to his backbenchers. The fact is that the Met, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Independent Reviewer of terror measures, Lord Carlile, all agree that detention longer than 28 days is going to be necessary sooner rather than later – such is the sophistication and technological complexity of today’s global Islamist plots (those who doubt this should remind themselves of the Dhiren Barot trial). 

Any extensions would be hedged about with parliamentary and judicial safeguards: this is emphatically not internment. Might this be a recruiting sergeant for fundamentalist Islam? Perhaps. But then so is the way Western women dress and their temerity in going to night-clubs, and the existence of the state of Israel, and the presence of British troops in Afghanistan, and the refusal of Christian Britons to accept sharia law. Should we accommodate those prejudices, too? 

I understand why commentators like Henry feel so strongly about liberty and sense an authoritarian streak in this Government. But I do not think it is wise to assess this fundamental threat to our security – at least 2,000 individuals plotting terror, according to MI5’s chief, Jonathan Evans – through the prism of party politics. The stakes are much higher that that.