Article from the Mar. 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI

New Labour's assault on civil liberties

"AL-QAIDA's ambition is not to get us out of Iraq or whatever, it is about seeking to destroy the fundamental nature of our society...freedom of expression and democracy, the rule of law, religious tolerance, the rights of women" - Charles Clarke, British Home Secretary, The Guardian, 9 March 2005.

Blair and his New Labour apparatchiks have been whipping up a climate of fear in British society. Its new laws imitate Bush's Patriot Act, and Labour talks of "imminent threats to national security" from groups such as Al Qaeda. Under the guise of the "war on terror" Charles Clarke's anti-terror bill is an unprecedented attack on civil liberties.

Under this new legislation, which updates the 2001 "anti-terrorism" bill, the Home Secretary, with the compliance of a high court judge, can imposed draconian "control orders" on individuals they claim are terrorists or a threat to national security. The new measures include the right to detain "suspects" indefinitely without trial, house arrests, electronic tagging, curfews, and limiting access to phones, the internet and lawyers. Blair's government is introducing these new measures on top of abolition of the right to trial by jury, the introduction of identity cards, the Criminal Justice Act and the anti-union laws. Civil liberties in Britain are rapidly being eroded, and it is adopting similar laws and methods to that of the apartheid regime in South Africa that placed its opponents under house arrest and restricted their right to travel.

The government will also have the legal right to ban meetings, demonstrations, organisations and to seize their property in the event of a terrorist threat or "any other civil unrest". In otherwords these new laws can also be used against trade unionists, socialists and anyone campaigning against the government. The scenario of these laws being used against the fire fighters or a transport strike because they are a "threat" to the government cannot be ruled out in the future.

Since September 11th, over 700 people have been arrested and detained in Britain under the 2001 Terrorism Act. Only 17 have been convicted of any offence and not one of them has been linked to Al Qaeda.

The civil liberties solicitor Gareth Peirce writing in The Guardian, 8 March 2005, stated: "We remember the requirement imposed upon hundreds of Americans by McCarthy to provide information on demand, and the heroic stance of those who took the fifth amendment and were sent to prison. "Naming names" will be the order of the day here in just the same way; the individual will be branded, and then, on pain of imprisonment, be required to brand others". This new legislation goes hand in hand with the US and British governments' policies of abducting "terror suspects" and transporting them illegally to Guantanamo Bay and other countries to be tortured.

These measures like their predecessors the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974, the Diplock Courts in Northern Ireland etc. will do nothing to combat the so-called terrorist threat. They will inevitably lead to serious miscarriages of justice like the jailing of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four.

The Socialist Party opposes the introduction of this new legislation and calls for the repeal of the 2001 Terrorism Act, the Criminal Justice Act, the anti-union laws and other such authoritarian legislation. We also stand for the election of judges and for community policing that is accountable to and under the democratic control of working class communities. Oppressive legislation and the biased judicial and state system exists to protect big business and governments that support capitalism and the exploitation of the working class. Real democracy, freedom and an end to poverty and exploitation can only be achieved by struggling for a democratic socialist society, a society which will be run by the majority for the needs of all and not the profits of the few.

More articles from this issue of the Socialist are listed here.

More articles from the SP archives of are available in our sitemap