Alex Massie

Tomfoolery from the Labour Backbenches

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Tom Harris's blog is a very useful creation. Now as it happens I don't think that parliamentary democracy is under threat because Damien Green was arrested, disgraceful though that arrest certainly was. Nonetheless, there's little doubt that this government has, time and time again and to an extent that may be as modern as it is largely unprecedented, ignored ancient parliamentary procedures and consistently demonstrated a contempt for "old-fashioned" concepts of liberty and the rule of law.

Thus Mr Harris's latest post is usefully illuminating. He writes:

As the right-hand man to Shami Chakrabarti the then Shadow Home Secretary, David “Remember him?” Davis, Dominic [Grieve, the Shadow Home Secretary] did a sterling job in defending the rights of terrorist suspects because he thought the government was being too, too beastly to the little darlings.

Note the sly insinuation that the Conservative party's heart and mind has been captured by a civil liberties group. Note too, the thuggish pretence that one is either "with" the terrorists or "against" them (even, especially before they've been charged.) And remember that Harris supports a government that wanted to lock citizens up without charge for 90 days and when it couldn't get that tried to push for a mere (but still outrageous) 42 days. To oppose this isn't to be in favour of encouraging terrorists to do their worst. It's the kind of rhetorical tactic favoured by the more rutish, less reflective, type of American Republican in the 2004 elections. A kind of tactic that, were it deployed against Labour, Mr Harris might well find somewhat offensive. Contra Mr Harris, one can be in favour of "law and order" while also being suspicious of handing the police ever-greater powers.

Then again, I suspect he would - rightly in my view - have been outraged had Tam Dalyell been arrested for receiving leaked information from Clive Ponting about the sinking of the Belgrano. That of course was a more serious affair since the information, rightly or not, was covered by the Official Secrets Act.

Once again, one decent test of having reached any sort of intellectual maturity is the ability to judge your own sides blunders (or successes) by the same standards you would use to evaluate those made by the other mob. (This, mind you, is a test that most of us fail occasionally). Still, I suppose it can't be any great surprise that Members of Parliament would fail this test consistently. But do so many of them have to?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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