Friday, June 13, 2008

Liberty & Safety

"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety" Ben Franklin

That a citizen should not be held unjustly is a fundamental principle of democratic freedom. It is the root of our entire system of law and justice. It is why a suspect must face charges quickly after being taken into custody. From the Magna Carta of 1215, we derive the law of Habeas Corpus - the fundamental principle that the state may not imprison the individual unlawfully.

The United Kingdom is a country rooted on these democratic principles, and in its history it has faced many extreme challenges: external ones like war and internal challenges, like the IRA terror campaign. Sometimes under the pressure of these challenges the country has abandoned elements of due process- internment in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, for example- but when it has done so, it has always been counter-productive.

When Gordon Brown proposed arrest without charges for a period of six weeks he could never gain the support of Liberals- such a prolonged period contradicts the whole ethos of Habeas Corpus. The disgraceful way in which the Brown government bribed and cajoled MPs to vote against their principles was a wholly unedifying spectacle of politics as usual.

Yet even more dishonourable has been the hint that, once the legislation was enacted, any future Conservative-led government despite opposing the legislation today- would not repeal six week detention without trial should they gain office. Thus David Davis, by resigning his seat is not only making a point about the erosion of liberty under Labour, but also making a point to his own party leadership. His comment that "more people care about this than conventional politics realises" is undoubtedly true, but is also making a point to other Conservatives, like George Osbourne, that any compromise on this issue is a betrayal of principle.

I have often thought in the past that David Davis, despite his right-wing reputation and notably his views on capital punishment, was much closer to being a classical liberal than David Cameron is. His determination to speak out on the issues of civil liberties that lie at the core of the Liberal Democrat agenda reflects the fact that it is Davis who is the true "Liberal Conservative". I suspect that many Conservatives will regard this gesture as a quixotic and potentially dangerous gesture- and that he may never recover his place on the Conservative front bench. However, were the Conservative leadership to take that view it would mark them out as no better than Brown.

As for Kelvin Mackenzie- at least his support for six weeks detention shows us what Rupert Murdoch actually believes and why his pernicious influence on British media should be challenged. The fact that Mackenzie is prepared to trade liberty for a spurious sense of security marks him out as a deluded coward.

The majority of the country will take David Davis' decision as a gesture of determined defiance- and a wholly principled one.

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that.
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the gowd for a' that.

Robert Burns

4 comments:

Newmania said...

Some of that is right and some of it is wrong. David Davies is more Gladstonian than David Cameron who is a Conservative, neither is authoritarian. Conservatism values freedom of course but, in the right circumstances will act to preserve order and security. The fact the Liberal Party will not , is one of the reasons they are unelectable at the moment . I can see this changing actually.

42 days is not a matter of principle but of trust and judgement is a trust issue which , of course , is hopeless for the Party of sexy dossiers. Obviously 42 days or even 142 might be justified ....but not now . The Conservative Party cannot commit themselves to ‘never’ . You will have to judge if this is an authoritarian Party...we see the issue framed in a quiet different way. The whole point of Liberty is that those who favour it will tend not to not agree amongst themselves .That is why as allies we have to be tolerant of others united against authoritarianism . How about some help when it doesn’t fit your right on “progressive “ agenda ?


Sorry your EU dream just got blown up C.

Love those Paddys

a very public sociologist said...

On first reaction I would applaud DD's principled stance. But I can't help thinking there's more to it than just this. Somewhere in his brain he must have weighed up factional advantage and the profile he'd receive from such a stunt. So is his long term objectives, considering he could have repealed 42 days on assumption of the home secretary;s office in 2010?

asquith said...

Excellent post. I myself have always held an admiration for Davis, whose civil libertarianism puts him in marked contrast with neoconservatives like Michael Gove and the nightmares on the Labour benches.

How can anyone, looking at Brown and co, imagine that they should be given more power?

Tristan said...

I've been thinking that David Davis would have been at home in areas of the Liberal Party way back when...

I do think newmania i wrong, Conservatism does not intrinsically value freedom.
It is one of the descendants of Toryism, it is committed to the use of the state's power to achieve its ends, its just that as the left-wing Toryism of some liberals and socialists came to dominate, some saw limited freedom as necessary for their well being.