Andrew Gilligan

The real threat to Britain

Andrew Gilligan says that reducing our liberties in response to terrorism will make us less safe

In these frightening days, we must seek our consolations where we can; and one of mine, over the last month, has been running a private contest to log the most idiotic remark made by one of the battalions of ‘security experts’ on standby at times like this to provide vitally needed, life-sustaining, 24-hour fatuous commentary on all major broadcast news outlets.

There was the lady from the prestigious think-tank on Sky News who said, quite late on 7 July, that the bombings were ‘clearly a major incident’. There was the ‘risk management consultant’ on The World Tonight who said that shooting people in the head, à la Jean Charles de Menezes, was not necessarily intended to kill them. There is the Home Office minister, Hazel Blears, but she has had to be disqualified on suspicion of cheating. Like the old East German Olympic women’s shot-putting team, she is simply too good.

No: the Spectator-engraved handcuffs go to the former anti-terrorist branch officer who suggested on Newsnight the other week that the police should be granted their latest wish, to detain anyone they like without charge for three months, because they ‘needed to allow Muslim suspects time to pray’.

This naked power-grab masquerading as concern for the victims’ religious rights struck me as the very essence of New Labour. It is also an example of Britain’s exciting new post-7 July streamlined legislative process. The Upper House (the Association of Chief Police Officers and the heads of the intelligence services) proposes a measure, and a short time later the Lower House (Mr Blair) does it, or something similar.

So, perhaps as soon as next month, we will have, in the Prime Minister’s words, a ‘significant extension’ of detention without trial bringing us close to, or actually into parity with, apartheid-era South Africa.

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