Saturday, November 29, 2008

Recall Parliament Now!

I still think that the outrage is justified over the way the police were allowed to enter an MPs office, jack his computers and files, and arrest him over a simple leak. That the Speaker allowed it to happen is an absolutely massive question.

There are bloggers who *always* write stuff about how we're living in a ZaNuLieBore Police State!!?!?!?!?! , but this time, I'm slightly embarrassed to say that I'm tempted to acknowledge that they have a half-a-point.

That the police (and this 'Terrorist Squad' business is, indeed, nonsense) can march into an MPs office is a huge issue. And the lack of general respect for Parliament these days means that this issue is - if anything - being understated (the 'we live in a police state' crowd don't generally have a track-record of stoutly defending representative democracy either - a partial explanation for this perhaps?)

As it happens, the reaction of a liberal democracy is our safeguard here: If this really *is* an over-reaction (and it looks like plod's powers have been massively over-extended here) Parliament is in a sufficient state of outrage to perhaps pursue it's own agenda instead of the tabloid one for a change. In the same way that this incident will lead to a review, so will go any other legislation that offends against Parliament's overview of balance on the issue of civil liberties.

It is also important to acknowledge - in this instance - that the government don't seem to have known it was going to happen in advance. But I hope that they will act to clarify the police powers in relation to parliamentarians in future either way.

So, in summary, I think that Dave is wrong here: This is bigger than the prosecution of Sarah Tidsall or Clive Ponting's because parliamentary privileges are absolutely sacred in a liberal democracy. That's why jury-tampering is a bigger offence than mugging. It is not only illegal, it threatens the basis of the rule of law. Jim's Forest Gate comparison doesn't work either.

I'm told that, in the late Saxon period (pre-1066) almost the only capital offence that remained was a debasement of the currency because, like jury-tampering, it also undermined the basis of the law. Tampering with Parliament is a similar matter in most people's books, I would have thought? The police should only do it if there is a bigger offence in the offing.

Now, if what Kerry McCarthy and The Guardian are hinting at - that this is actually a conspiracy - were true, then everything changes.

For parliamentarians to actively run moles in government departments would be an even more serious an offence than the one that Damian Green appears to have suffered at Dibble's hands - indeed, if the Speaker had been shown evidence to this effect, it would fully justify his decision.

It would show that the Tories were no longer acting as a parliamentary opposition, but were using their Parliamentary privileges to actually commission criminal activity - under laws that are a good deal more lenient towards whistleblowers than they would have been pre-1997.

But it seems unlikely that the Tories would be that stupid, and it would be quite tough to prove even if they were.

Either way, I really think that it is a mistake to not take this absolutely seriously. Parliament should be recalled - and The Speaker should provide a proper account of why he allowed Parliamentary Privilege to be breached in this way.

For his sake - it better be good!


Jim Bliss said...

My "Forest Gate analogy" was specifically related to the statement by the Tory party that the police had been "unprecedented in their heavy-handedness".

Frankly it's a ridiculous statement, but if you wish to defend its accuracy then that's up to you I guess.

Snipperoo said...

I think David Cameron should resign and fight a by-election on the issue ;-)

mikeovswinton said...

We'll see if there is a conspiracy involving MPs in due course. The Times yesterday stated that the civil servant involved had asked Damian Green for a job, but been turned down.

The thing I found interesting about the Guardian story was the point about the Sunday Times (prop News Corp) and its appearing to do exactly what you were talking about in your posts. I must say that that aspect made the headline on Matthew Parris's Times (prop News Corp) article on the issue ring hollow ( "An outrage that brings shame on this country") but I couldn't be bothered to read what he had to say as I take him about as seriously on politics as I do my cat. In fact my cat sometimes talks sense.

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