Thursday, March 19, 2009

Conor Gearty again

Conor Gearty on a large slice of the civil liberties lobby:

"The idea that the state is an unwarranted assault on individual freedom is not a progressive one. This kind of libertarianism works to protect privilege by cloaking the advantages of the rich in the garb of personal autonomy, individual freedom and the “human right” to privacy.

It is not at all surprising that the Convention on Modern Liberty is attracting strong support from those on the right of politics, politicians who hanker after a golden age of rights for the rich and responsibilities for everyone else.

But the left, or at least those parts of it that believe in the progressive power of the state, need to be more careful about defining exactly where they stand when they join in this chorus of dissent."

I'm glad he's written this. As an 'umble blogger, I've found myself (like most of us) thrown back on subjectivity in answering the question: Police state - getting closer or further away? 

It seems to me very clear that - leaving aside some bloody horrible examples of bureaucrats using a badly drafted bit of law to solve a problem that it wasn't intended to address, that the general direction we are heading in is a positive one. And bureaucrats feeling able to exercise more discretionary power than they used to .... in what sort of circumstances does that happen, eh?

7 comments:

Shuggy said...

Gearty, not unlike yourself, is rather light on the detail of what he means. In his case, can he give examples of rights that he thinks protect exclusively the privileges of the rich? And if he can, why didn't he include them in his article? And if he can't, why is he wasting everyone's time with this shit? And can you flesh out why you think "the general direction we are heading in is a positive one"? If not, why do you keep repeating the same point over, and over, and over, and over again without providing any substantive examples of what the fuck you're on about? Ok, Henry Porter is a wank - we can all agree. (Although at least he actually provides examples of what he's talking about.) But this doesn't mean the task of the left is to act as an apologist for what is, does it?

And bureaucrats feeling able to exercise more discretionary power than they used to .... in what sort of circumstances does that happen, eh?

Depends on what you mean by bureaucrats. Do Mi5 count? And have you heard of a place called Guantanamo Bay?

Shuggy said...

Btw, just so we're clear: scrutiny of politicians' private lives = bad thing; scrutiny of citizens' private lives = good thing, necessary for security, 'real freedom' and 'politics' right? Ok got that. And why is this, exactly?

Paulie said...

Yes. Guantanamo Bay rings a bell. As does the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Internment, putting spies in the offices of the NCCL, CND, verballing, the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, the battle of the beanfield, the way the cops behaved around the miners strike. My point is that things are getting generally a bit better. Gearty *does* list the areas where there have been improvements - FOI, The Human Rights Act, devolution, etc.

If you want to draw up a table with the good bits on one side and the bad bits on the other, then give them weightings, feel free. I don't think you'd find the 'hell-in-a-handcart' thesis would stand up when you've finished though.

I'm not saying that the Labour government is perfect by any means. And I don't know why you need it spelling out to you that demands for privacy often stem from a need to preserve privileged positions, and I'd accept that the disproportonate intrusion that is used to combat benefit fraud is unacceptable (but not, as far as I can see, very high on the agenda of a lot of privacy campaigners).

When you say 'scrutiny of citizens' private lives' what do you mean exactly? Are you saying that we all have to publish details of how we spend our money now? I really should read the papers more often...

Shuggy said...

I don't think you'd find the 'hell-in-a-handcart' thesis would stand up when you've finished though.

Nah - but since I'm not advocating the 'hell-in-a-handcart' thesis - am I bothered? Do I look bothered to you? (Oh how I would so love you, Aaronovitch, Gearty, and assorted other New Labour types to teach a secondary class. To see your belief system collapse within you like a house of cards. Especially 'I'm a school governor' Aaronovitch. Fucking former tankie now proto-Tory. But I digress...)

FOI, The Human Rights Act, devolution, etc.

That's a frankly pathetic list right there comrade. Plus at least one has to be deleted: devolution (which I'm beginning to regret voting for, frankly) has to do with the source of power; liberty has to do with its scope. You'd think a professor of law would be able to grasp the distinction but apparently not...

Freedom of Information = good. No argument from me there. On the other hand, how much good has this Act been to those detained without trial, eh? Don't even get to hear the evidence against them. If you don't think this is fucked up then you're wrong and that is that.

Human Rights Act = Cool. But limited, no? It was always the case that UK law was subordinate to this - it's just that now a British citizen doesn't have to go to Strasburg to pursue a case. Good - but no big deal. Conor Gearty asks us to be impressed that the government has moderated its behaviour when it has been pointed out that what it is doing is illegal. I'm sorry but my attitude is: fuck him, if that's what he thinks. Ooh, what does this leave us? Outside of your list sis only one item: the Data Protection Act. Gearty claims this as a New Labour liberalising measure. But this has to do with privacy - a concept both he and you have rubbished in the guise of the usual pseudo-proletarian bullshit we've come to expect from New Labour. So either this can't be claimed as a liberalising measure - or it can, in which case government intrusion is indeed - by Gearty's own definition - a cause for concern.

Are you saying that we all have to publish details of how we spend our money now? I

Our money? You mean the tax-payer's money? When I spend the tax-payer's money - which I have been known to do - I'm obliged to give an account of this. You saying politicians shouldn't be? And if so, why not? Would any politician tolerate the invasion of privacy that benefits are required to endure. That the Convention of Modern Liberty haven't made a noise about this doesn't concern me since I'm not a member and I don't really give a fuck what they think.

I really should read the papers more often...

This is what you imagine to be sarcasm, I take it? Must try harder.

Shuggy said...

that benefits are required to endure.

Sorry, that should be benefits claimants. Certainly the Convention of Modern Liberty doesn't give a fuck. Neither does HP - who, embarrassingly, are strongly supportive of your view. Actually, when you think about it, can you name any group on the modern left that gives a fuck about the unemployed? They're all too tied up in the Middle East - seems a bit harsh, then, to single out the Convention of Modern Liberty.

Paulie said...

"I'm not advocating the 'hell-in-a-handcart' thesis"

So what are you saying then? Are things getting better or worse? I think that they're getting worse for the reasons I've outlined before. There's an implied solution in my argument (make government less illiberal by a defence of politics and a promotion of decentralisation - contentious, I know, but that's my argument).

Feel free to tell me what you are actually saying at any time?

I don't think you can really find examples of me adopting 'prolier than thou' arguments - isn't there some famous fallacy where you point to two people and say "A agrees with B about thing 1 therefore he must agree with him about thing 2"?

I don't understand your argument about detention without trial. Sorry. Whatever it is, don't assume I'm in favour of it - I'm not.

"Conor Gearty asks us to be impressed that the government has moderated its behaviour when it has been pointed out that what it is doing is illegal. I'm sorry but my attitude is: fuck him, if that's what he thinks."

Leaving aside another one of those famous fallacies, this is what the rule of law is about. I detest the legalism that almost everyone I know doesn't detest at the moment - I'd love it if politicians felt that they had the option to exercise their discretion sometimes, but I don't think that they do without overwriting a part of the politician DNA. Sorry. It's a slightly misanthropic view I know, but if you want, you can join me in wishing that everyone could just be *nicer* to each other.

Data protection is a powerful liberalising measure in every sense of the word and I don't know why you belittle it. It's very useful in reducing commercial exploitation among other things (though it's more a triumph of European Social Democracy than New Labour, I think?)

On your last point about MPs expenses, my key point on that is the asymmetrical demands for transparency that are placed upon politicians by their rivals. I thought that this was fairly clear? This doesn't make me an advocate for intrusive and disproportionate powers to investigate benefit fraud.

"Actually, when you think about it, can you name any group on the modern left that gives a fuck about the unemployed?"

No. Good point.

"...how I would so love you, Aaronovitch, Gearty, and assorted other New Labour types to teach a secondary class. To see your belief system collapse within you like a house of cards."

You're so right about this. None of us effete bruschetta-munching chianti-swilling metropolitan types will ever enjoy the vantage point that you have.

(How's that for sarcasm? Any better?)

stephen said...

Data protection is a powerful liberalising measure in every sense of the word and I don't know why you belittle it

Yes it is. So how come this government is attempting to liberate itself from the constraints of the Data Protection Act? Transformative government, National Identity Register ... ring any bells? If it is wrong for a private company to share my data without my express consent, why is it right for state agencies to do so?