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Government escapes humiliation by single vote

What books will need to be burned if this new legislation is passed? What thoughts must we be careful not to voice?

Jim Jepps


 

Escalating police powersThe Government and Blair and Clarke specifically escaped humiliation this week when a crucial vote in the Commons was only narrowly won on Clarke's proposed anti-terror legislation. With just a single vote between a government victory, or its first defeat since 1997, New Labour is looking perilously weak.

Blair's opponents combined almost all the opposition plus a good number of Labour MP's  (see below for the list of Labour MPs who voted against this legislation) who are increasingly concerned at the level of police powers that this government seems to want to give itself. Even if this government was to use these powers responsibly (which seems far from likely) the legislation would be available to all future governments, who could be even more willing to use repressive measures.

What many of the Blairites refused to acknowledge was that it is not what they intend to criminalise that is important - but what the bill, should it be passed, will criminalise. And after all, we only have their word for it that they have good intentions. I don't remember them declaring in a frank and open way how legislation will be used on previous occasions. When did a minister get up and declare previous legislation was intended to silence a man in his seventies from shouting "nonsense" at Jack Straw or to detain those legitimately protesting?

What books will need to be burned if this new legislation is passed? What thoughts must we be careful not to voice? As Bob Marshall Andrews put it "Any newspaper that puts a Hamas propaganda leaflet on its front page, either to debate it or attack it, will also almost certainly be guilty under the Act."

One sticking point was the fact that opponents wish to see an amendment ensuring that only those who intend to support terrorism should be affected by the legislation, unbelievably the government opposes even this - so someone could be committing an offence simply by unintentionally saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Of course it is already a criminal offence to incite murder and mayhem - what the government hope to do is to make prosecution easier and criminalise dissent. Truly chilling.

During the debate on the bill Martin Horwood, a Lib Dem MP, stated that "Universities UK fears that [criminal acts] might happen in extremely thoughtful circumstances, namely in the process of the publication of research and the encouragement of academic debate. It states that the Bill "opens the question as to whether an individual student who may disagree with a lecturer's personal political view could be reported and then prosecuted for glorifying terrorism . . . It seems highly likely that students undertaking courses like International Relations, History and Politics may be exposed to or research on texts that could fall foul of Clauses 1, 2 and 6 of this Bill."

Many of those in favour of the bill would have been committing a criminal offence in the past had this legislation been in place. Sally Keeble, who spoke numerous times in the House defending the legislation, once said "The campaign to destroy government property by the ANC fighting against the Apartheid Regime is an example of justifiable violence against oppressive and tyrannical government." There is no question that she could have been jailed for uttering such words under the act.

Due to the closeness of the vote there has been much scrutiny of those who did not attend. For example Vincent Cable, leading Lib Dem and treasury spokesman, could not attend because, ironically, he was caught up in a security 'logjam' caused by over zealous policing of a Make Poverty History lobby of Parliament taking place at the same time.

George Galloway was away speaking in his one man show in Ireland, despite the fact that the Respect's website implores supporters to lobby their MP to ensure they vote against the bill (see here). Galloway was slammed by Green Party Principal Speaker Keith Taylor who said "Mr Galloway's non attendance raises clear questions about his commitment to human rights; where was his oft vaunted belief in free speech when it came to fighting for our civil liberties in the UK parliament?

"He should be ashamed for choosing a speaking tour event above invoking his privileged right as an MP and voting on an issue he claims is important to him. He threw away his chance to single handedly stop the Government's anti terror legislation. MPs are elected and paid handsomely to represent the electorate. It's an absolute disgrace that repressive, illiberal terrorist legislation is a step closer to the statute book simply because some irresponsible MPs didn't turn up for the debate. Every vote counted, but where was George Galloway?"

But let us not forget those within the Labour ranks who were not courageous enough to take a stand against Blair. Austin Mitchell also abstained from the vote and Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, voted with the Government. He told the Independent: "I have been wrestling with the idea that I saved the Government. I don't want to see the Government humiliated. I want them to have a warning shot across the bows."

Of course it is not the Labour Government that was saved but Clarke and Blair and this government has seen plenty of shots fired in its day. It's clear that some Labour lefts are conveniently allowing themselves to be divided between defending their principles and saving a neo-liberal government on the basis of a historic but abstract loyalty.

However, whatever the frustrations at this or that MP not turning up at work, which they are paid to do from public funds, it should not allow anyone to be distracted from those who are truly culpable. This is not Galloway, or Vincent Cable or some spineless Labour drone but New Labour PLC which consistently ratchets up the tension, creating a climate of war and fear. We need anti-state terror legislation and we need it fast.

 

 

Labour honour role of those who opposed the home secretary's plans

 

Diane Abbott

 Hackney North & Stoke Newington

John Austin

 Erith & Thamesmead

Richard Burden

 Birmingham  Northfield

Martin Caton

 Gower

Michael Clapham

 Barnsley West & Penistone

Katy Clark

 Ayrshire North & Arran

Jeremy Corbyn

 Islington North

Jim Cousins

 Newcastle upon Tyne Central

Ann Cryer

 Keighley

Frank Dobson

 Holborn & St Pancras

Gwyneth Dunwoody

 Crewe & Nantwich

Mark Fisher

 Stoke-on-Trent Central

Neil Gerrard

 Walthamstow

Ian Gibson

 Norwich North

John Grogan

 Selby

Kate Hoey

 Vauxhall

Kelvin Hopkins

 Luton North

Glenda Jackson

 Hampstead & Highgate

Lynne Jones

 Birmingham Selly Oak

Peter Kilfoyle

 Liverpool  Walton

Andrew Love

 Edmonton

Robert Marshall-Andrews

 Medway

John McDonnell

 Hayes & Harlington

Michael Meacher

 Oldham West & Royton

George Mudie

 Leeds East

Linda Riordan

 Halifax

Clare Short

 Birmingham Ladywood

Alan Simpson

 Nottingham South

Dennis Skinner

 Bolsover

David Taylor

 North West Leicestershire

Jon Trickett

 Hemsworth

Robert Wareing

 Liverpool West Derby

 

 

For a full list of who voted for, against and abstained click here

 

 

November 2005

back
 
Clarke pressed on terror advice
from the BBC
 
Blair vows to push on with radical proposals
in the Independent
 
Terror plan branded as 'nonsense'
from the BBC
 
Clarke concession on terror law
from the BBC
 
You can read the Parliamentary debate here

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