I never thought I would be in the House of Commons on the day Magna Carta was repealed. That’s what Tony Benn was heard to spit a few hours ago as the people’s party voted in an extension of the detainment time limit to 42 days without trial for under the Terrorism Act. This disgusting pyrrhic victory was passed by a measly nine votes, provided by a sullen and harrassed Democratic Unionists party, who know exactly what terrorism at home means and exactly why laws like this will mean so little. In a Pulitzer-worthy piece, Simon Hoggart reported that:
I never thought the government that promised so much in 1997 would sell us with such teeth-gritting ignorance down a river that will probably inevitably carry the Cameron regatta into Downing street in 2010. I never thought I’d see such a victory for spite and oninism in the Commons as the bullying and cajoling of MPs into voting in a law which would not even be necessary had the government listened to its people and its representatives and not gone to rattle sabres in the Gulf in the first place. What idiots. What limp-dicked cowards. And my god, what a debate.
Diane Abbott was bloody fantastic. She had become an MP, she said, her voice rising to angry shrillness, to defend the marginalised, the unpopular and those who were suspected. These were the very people parliament had to stand up for. And in the end, they hung back. They voted in favour of a law that will punish a small minority of already marginalised citizens who, whatever their politics, will almost certainly emerge from jail and interrogation ready to sign up for state-sabotage with the first nutter they meet.
None of those voting in favour of the bill have ever done time in British prisons. None of them know what it means to already feel alienated, emasculated and shunned in a country where your own government thinks you’re a dangerous freak who needs to be locked up. They let us down for a stunt that started out as a PR move and ended up as a right royal tantrum from a Premier who doesn’t know when to let go. All those hushed rumours about MPs Brown had never met previously met being harangued in person and by phone, stalwart back benchers having their pet causes dangled tantalisingly before them in return for support. The ugly spectacle of a Prime Minister yelling and in tears on the telephone. Brown is throwing all his toys out of the pram.
The fact that his latest little stunt is one blunt, rusty nail in the chest of his government’s re-election hopes is patently obvious even to his supporters. So why has he done it? Why fight so viciously for a piece of fantastically uncouth legal repression when the incumbent law, even if it makes it through the Lords, will almost certainly do more harm to Brown and his supporters than good to national security? Why? Panic. Sheer, vicious, bloody-minded panic. Brown has always been a bully, but now he’s a frightened bully in a corner. And suddenly he’s showing his teeth.
I want to claim then there are no words to describe the let down. Given that I’m about to be a qualified journalist, that’s not something I’m allowed to say anymore. Set down, then, a suitable amount of raw rage about this, along with a hefty measure of bewilderment and a chaser of neat despair. I don’t know how this has happened, and I don’t know why. My ancestors came to this country to escape persecution, poverty and violence, running from bombs and state terrorism and asking for nothing but the chance to work hard and educate their children in peace. Now that longed-for liberty is being sliced up and sold off piece by piece in the name of freedom, for the sake of a thuggish politician’s pride and a bit of schmoozing to the tabloids.
Bugger this. I want a better world.