December 25, 2005

Liberty's too expensive

The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and that is a price the British no longer seem to be prepared to pay. They have allowed Tony Blair to take a wrecking ball to the British constitution (our constitution is unwritten, but contrary to what many believe, we do have one) and tacked bits on to render it more convenient for himself. A British prime minister wields far greater untrammelled power – especially if he has a supine party and a supine Opposition – than does an American president.

Blair’s “hate speech” bill is rippling through British civil life now.

The excuse is, as it always is in the West now, “racism”, which is actually very rare in Britain. Blair knows that. But his bill is actually to muffle free speech about Islam, which he seems to think is a race, and is designed to curry favour with the Muslim Council. But also tucked away among the clauses is another popular leftist cudgel – the accusation of “homophobia”.

The British didn’t badger their MPs to get this draconian bill thrown out, though.

Somehow, they’ve stopped bothering about politics. Blair’s been in office for almost 10 years, his own MPs vote as they’re told in the hope of preferment, and although sometimes Conservatives get up the will to fight, Blair’s majority, although much reduced in the last election, is still 60. People are tired of Blair. They dislike him intensely, but they despair of ever getting rid of him. Grown weary, they have allowed themselves to be browbeaten by their elected representatives.

Self-censoring in Britain has already begun. People who formerly routinely spoke their minds are simply afraid to say what they think for fear of a visit from the hate police. Sounds too fanciful to be true? Surley not in Britain, the mother of complete freedom of speech?

Earlier this month, a family values campaigner, Lynette Burrows, who is a fairly middle of the road individual, took part in a radio discussion on the new Civil Partnerships Act (to give gay partners the rights of next-of-kin). She wasn’t opposed to the Act. But she did express the view that two homosexual men wishing to adopt should not have a little boy placed with them. Equally, she said that two straight men living in the same household should not have a little girl placed with them. Most of us would think this an unexceptional, fairly down to earth opinion.

To quote journalist Melanie Phillips: “To her astonishment, the following day she was contacted by the police who said a ‘homophobic incident’ had been reported against her. She had committed no crime but, said the police, it was policy to investigate homophobic, racist and domestic incidents because these were ‘priority crimes’. Such action was ‘all about reassuring the community’. A comment made on a radio discussion panel is now a “priority crime”?

Then there is the case of Harry Hammond, an evangelical preacher, which he has every right to be if that is where the spirit leads him. He held up a poster somewhere that said, in effect, “Down with lesbianism and homosexuality and immorality”. He is entitled to his opinion and to express it, but not in Blair’s Britain. He was convicted of a public order offence because he went “beyond legitimate protest”.

Last week, police called on a Mr and Mrs Roberts, a retired couple, and questioned them for 80 minutes. Their suspected crime? Well, it’s not clear, really, but they had asked whether they could place some Christian literature next to some “gay rights” leaflets in their local town hall. Police warned that their action was “close to a hate crime”. Mr Roberts, 73, thought his local council was overly-focusing on “gay rights” and asked if he could place some Christian literature on the same table. He was told no, because it would offend gay people.

Said Mr Roberts, “They warned me that being discriminatory and homophobic is in line with hate crime. The phrase they used was that we were ‘walking on eggshells’.”

Said the Lancashire police, in a prepared statement: “Words of suitable advice were given and we will not be taking any further action.” He added, “The council referred this matter to the police for further investigation with the intention of challenging attitudes and educating and raising awareness of the implications of homophobic behaviour.”

There you have it. Blair’s Britain. And the British let it happen. They weren’t vigilant.

Posted by Verity at December 25, 2005 12:03 PM
Comments

Let me get this straight: The police can be called in to investigate a "homophobic incident" for expressing an opinion on the sex choices in adoption, and this is a "priority crime" ?!

Have they solved all the problems of assault and robbery, and made everyone safe in their homes and on the street, and now have nothing better to do? This really sounds deranged.

Posted by: Sam_S at December 25, 2005 07:57 PM

Rule Britannia!
Britannia rule the waves!
That Britons'll never, ever, ever hate speech say!

Posted by: james f at December 25, 2005 07:59 PM

Sam_S Yes, they have apparently removed all violent crime in Britain. And now only have to worry about the frilly bit of thought control.

Posted by: Verity at December 25, 2005 08:25 PM

My thoughts, precisely, she says bitterly, as crime goes up and up and the clear-up rate stays roughly the same 13 to 15 per cent. That includes crimes were the perp is known from the beginning, eg domestic violence. It is fair to say, however, that the British police no longer considers domestic burglary as investigative priority and come out to the scene with great reluctance. Not like hate speech. That is top priority.

Posted by: Helen at December 26, 2005 03:56 AM

"But his bill is actually to muffle free speech about Islam, which he seems to think is a race, and is designed to curry favour with the Muslim Council."

Isn't the hate speech and incitement to terrorism in the radical mosques a greater danger? Why don't the police investigate that? Because common sense statements are a high priority? What backwards priorities!

"The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and that is a price the British no longer seem to be prepared to pay."

You prove the point.

Posted by: anonymous at December 26, 2005 08:51 AM

When the ID card eventually comes in, all you will need in the UK is the imposition of exit visas, for Tony Blair to call himself president for life, and you have the former East Germany!

Posted by: rich at December 27, 2005 07:55 AM

rich - I have in fact, mentioned on Samizdata that people who are contemplating immigration to escape all these abridgements of personal liberty should go now. The economy, currently very rocky indeed, will crater within the next couple of years and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be obliged to put limits on the amount of funds British people can take out of Britain.

They did this once before - I think in the 1950s or 1960s. Brits vacationing overseas could only take £50 out of the country. Even 40 or 50 years ago, this was a ludicrously small amount. I predict that as the economy sinks, under the rabid socialist mismanagement of Gordon Brown, he will have to disallow Brits selling their houses and taking the profits out of the country to start a new life.

Posted by: Verity at December 27, 2005 09:43 AM

people who are contemplating immigration to escape all these abridgements of personal liberty should go now

Where to? Seriously. I'm looking for recommendations.

I have spent 15 years outside UK, returned a few years ago to find the mess you describe. But living abroad is not the permanent holiday one imagines, even if you speak the lingo passably and have some idea of the culture.

Tried: BE,NL,LU,FR,IE.
Temp: CH,DK,SE,NO,HR,US.

So where to relocate? The Isle of Man & Ireland are English-speaking & culturally close but have other problems. There's good living to be found in Belgium & France. Switzerland looks good, but I don't know it that well.

Recommendations appreciated.

Posted by: Rog at December 27, 2005 11:29 AM

Get. out. of. Europe. It is the new Soviet Union, a brave new world of serfdom supporting the nomenklatura who have their feet firmly on the peasants' necks.

I have just seen and posted over on Samizdata, that the unelected EU Commissioner for Justice and Freedom and something else grandiose, I don't remember, has got up on his hind legs and critised the brave ELECTED prime minister of Denmark, that dashing Viking Anders Fogh Rasmussen. You will recall that Mr Rasmussen calmly refused to meet with 11 ambassadors from Islamic countries who wanted to formally complain about a newspaper publishing cartoons of Mohammad. He sent a message that the prime minister has no control over the press "and nor do I want such control". And he defended the editor of the newspaper that published the cartoons.

Now this UNELECTED parasite, living in the lap of luxury at the expense of working taxpayers, has criticised Mr Rasmussen's brave stance. The EU stinks. Go to a free country.

Posted by: Verity at December 27, 2005 11:41 AM

Rog asks "So where to relocate?" Rog, what about the USA? You mention that you've lived there temporarily, and I assume you felt you didn't fit in, but it's a big country, and surely there must be somewhere... I note that the sainted John Derbyshire ('Derb') lives in Long Island and has become a US citizen but has retained his English accent unimpaired by the slightest hint of any Americanism ;-)

I am as worried about the assault on free speech as anyone here. I am described by my friends as 'very English' and worry about whether I would be happy in America, but despite this I always seem to get on well with individual Americans. Perhaps New Hampshire, which has been widely touted as a good destination for freedom-lovers, and is on the more familiar-looking side of America for English people, landscape-wise and architecture-wise.

I suppose I could tough it out here for the rest of my life, but I am increasingly worried about my children's future. I want them to grow up self-reliant and straight-talking.

Posted by: Graham Asher at December 27, 2005 11:58 AM

Oh, for God's sake, Graham Asher, you're living under the iron boot of Tony Blair and his fellow commies who are squeezing you dry financially and squeezing your freedoms and liberties out of public life and you are fretting about whether you would be happy in the US?

Hardly the spirit of those brave, optimistic souls who left Britain 300 years ago and sailed to a country they had never seen and only heard of! And made a go of it! What on earth is it about the United States that frightens you? This is amazing.

Posted by: Verity at December 27, 2005 12:10 PM

Verity: "Hardly the spirit of those brave, optimistic souls who left Britain 300 years ago and sailed to a country they had never seen and only heard of!"

Rarely do I disagree with Verity, but she is being a bit ....

Those folk went to the Americas mainly because there was hardly any administrative authority, plenty of empty freely avaliable land and the possibility that you might, just might pick up a few pounds of gold into the bargin.

There is no comparison with the US today. Most of the land worth having has been had, there is a very well established administrative authority and the gold...

On this occasion, I think we need to stay behind and destroy the totalitarians from inside. Sorry, there is no glamour, no promise of riches, just the usual tithe of tears sweat and blood the British have to, from time to time spend on their own country.

Posted by: APL at December 27, 2005 12:58 PM

APL - Thanks for your comment, but the people who sailed to America in the sixteen hundreds were unimaginably brave. Yes, the rumour of being able to pick up land for free would have been tempting - but they'd only heard of this country. There were no photographs; no TV images. They didn't know what they were sailing to. They didn't know if they would survive the harsh winters; whether they would be able to grow enough food to survive; whether there were hostile tribes that would kill them.

They went because they were optimists - which is why America is such an optimistic country. All the people who went there were confident enough to bet on themselves and a new life. Whenever I think of what they did, I am in total awe.

The implied suggestion you make that people would still be coming to America in the hopes of getting free land or panning for gold is bonkers. Brits are as familiar with America as they are with their neighbour's garden. Many these days take their vacations in the US year after year. Hordes of them own winter holiday homes in Florida.

I'm sorry, but I don't think you have a chance of fighting from within in Britain because the British, as I said, have had all the fight sapped out of them by a 10 year onslaught on their liberties by a hissy, preachy, greedy-for-money- and-glory 10th rater and his cabinet of the legally brain dead.

They have given up their freedom of speech without even noticing. The police feel the back of their collars if they voice a politically incorrect opinion, the police come to their home to reprimand and "advise" them - telling that elderly couple, for example that they were "walking on eggshells" because they had politely requested to put some Christian literature on the same table as gay literature in their town hall - which is taxpayer-owned property. How intimidating is that? Is there an outcry? Not really. Melanie Phillips and a couple of other columnists have mentioned it with hearty disapproval, but people shrug and move on. They are marching into servitude. I do not think you are going to find many allies in a fight for liberty in today's Britain.

Sauve qui peu!

Posted by: Verity at December 27, 2005 01:21 PM

Never forget: Big Brother is watching you!

Posted by: Ron Barbour at December 28, 2005 01:19 AM

Maybe it's time for the Brits to write their Constitution down. If you don’t, your only written constitution will be that of the EU!

Here in the U.S., the nanny liberals want to read our Constitution selectively and spin the rest through some bizarre interpretations. Ultimately, however, the words are written down and most were written in unequivocal language.

It’s a shame that the British Conservative party has flopped so badly since Thatcher’s departure. Ultimately, the British people will have no one to blame but themselves for their loss of freedom.

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