Saturday, December 06, 2008

"First they came ..."

posted by k

Thomas Cochrane would make a great hero for a historical novel. It's arguable that he already is the hero of several, since he may be the model for Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey.

Somehow I'd never heard of Thomas Cochrane until I read Craig Murray's blogpost about him yesterday. Evidently he's not just an important figure in the naval history of Britain but also part of Britain's frequently forgotten radical past. As Craig Murray points out, Cochrane was a radical MP who believed in one man one vote and the abolition of the "tax of knowledge" which priced newspapers so that they were beyond the budget of working people. In 1815 he was arrested in the Houses of Parliament and the precedent has been cited approvingly by New Labour as the government attempts to justify the treatment of Damien Green, shadow immigration secretary.

Craig Murray rightly points out the irony of New Labour, which has laid claim to radical roots, finding its only precedent in actions taken under Lord Liverpool's government, one of the most oppressive administrations of the 19th century.

I don't think there's much need to spell out what was wrong with the arrest of Damien Green or the search of his office, home, computers and emails. Governments who authorise - even at arm's length - the detention of members of the opposition endanger democracy.

But I wish, in all the fuss about the treatment of Damien Green, there had been more mention of the routine use of dawn raids, house searches and detention without trial in Britain - or of the way people legally in this country are required by law to supply detailed biometric data and to pay hundreds of pounds for this privilege.

Asylum seekers in particular are subject to dawn raids. And foreigners, such as students, who are in the country legally, are expected to pay hundreds of pounds for new, biometric ID cards. It's true they won't be taken to the police station to provide the necessary data. Instead they have to travel to one of six centres and wait in line until someone is free to see them. Failure to possess or update a card will be a criminal offence. This is the beginning of ID cards for all of us.

First they came for the asylum seekers. Then they came for the foreigners. Then they came for an Opposition MP. Where will it end?

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