John Pilger sees freedom die quietly


Richard Moore

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John Pilger sees freedom die quietly 
John Pilger 
Monday 17th April 2006 

The bill marks the end of true parliamentary democracy; it is as significant as 
Congress abandoning the Bill of Rights, writes John Pilger

People ask: can this be happening in Britain? Surely not. A centuries-old 
democratic constitution cannot be swept away. Basic human rights cannot be made 
abstract. Those who once comforted themselves that a Labour government would 
never commit such an epic crime in Iraq might now abandon a last delusion, that 
their freedom is inviolable. If they knew. 

The dying of freedom in Britain is not news. The pirouettes of the Prime 
Minister and his political twin, the Chancellor, are news, though of minimal 
public interest. Looking back to the 1930s, when social democracies were 
distracted and powerful cliques imposed their totalitarian ways by stealth and 
silence, the warning is clear. The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill has 
already passed its second parliamentary reading without interest to most Labour 
MPs and court journalists; yet it is utterly totalitarian in scope. 

It is presented by the government as a simple measure for streamlining 
deregulation, or "getting rid of red tape", yet the only red tape it will 
actually remove is that of parliamentary scrutiny of government legislation, 
including this remarkable bill. It will mean that the government can secretly 
change the Parliament Act, and the constitution and laws can be struck down by 
decree from Downing Street. Blair has demonstrated his taste for absolute power 
with his abuse of the royal prerogative, which he has used to bypass parliament 
in going to war and in dismissing landmark high court judgments, such as that 
which declared illegal the expulsion of the entire population of the Chagos 
Islands, now the site of an American military base. The new bill marks the end 
of true parliamentary democracy; in its effect, it is as significant as the US 
Congress last year abandoning the Bill of Rights. 

Those who fail to hear these steps on the road to dictatorship should look at 
the government's plans for ID cards, described in its manifesto as "voluntary". 
They will be compulsory and worse. An ID card will be different from a driving 
licence or passport. It will be connected to a database called the NIR (National
Identity Register), where your personal details will be stored. These will 
include your fingerprints, a scan of your iris, your residence status and 
unlimited other details about your life. If you fail to keep an appointment to 
be photographed and fingerprinted, you can be fined up to  2,500. 

Every place that sells alcohol or cigarettes, every post office, every pharmacy 
and every bank will have an NIR terminal where you can be asked to "prove who 
you are". Each time you swipe the card, a record will be made at the NIR - so, 
for instance, the government will know every time you withdraw more than  99 
from your bank account. Restaurants and off-licences will demand that the card 
be swiped so that they are indemnified from prosecution. Private business will 
have full access to the NIR. If you apply for a job, your card will have to be 
swiped. If you want a London Underground Oyster card, or a supermarket loyalty 
card, or a telephone line or a mobile phone or an internet account, your ID card
will have to be swiped. 

In other words, there will be a record of your movements, your phone calls and 
shopping habits, even the kind of medication you take. These databases, which 
can be stored in a device the size of a hand, will be sold to third parties 
without you knowing. The ID card will not be your property and the Home 
Secretary will have the right to revoke or suspend it at any time without 
explanation. This would prevent you drawing money from a bank. 

ID cards will not stop terrorists, as the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, has 
now admitted; the Madrid bombers all carried ID. On 26 March, the government 
moved to silence parliamentary opposition to the cards, announcing that a 
committee would investigate banning the House of Lords from blocking legislation
contained in a party's manifesto. The Blair clique does not debate. Like the 
zealot in Downing Street, its "sincere belief" in its own veracity is quite 
enough. When the London School of Economics published a long study that in 
effect demolished the government's case for the cards, Clarke abused it for 
feeding a "media scare campaign". 

This is the same minister who attended every cabinet meeting at which Blair's 
lies over his decision to invade Iraq were clear. 

This government was re-elected with the support of barely a fifth of those 
eligible to vote: the second-lowest proportion since the franchise. Whatever 
respectability the famous suits in television studios try to give him, Blair is 
demonstrably discredited as a liar and war criminal. 

Like the constitution-hijacking bill now reaching its final stages, and the 
criminalising of peaceful protest, ID cards are designed to control the lives of
ordinary citizens (as well as enrich the new Labour-favoured companies that will
build the computer systems). A small, determined and profoundly undemocratic 
group is killing freedom in Britain, just as it has killed literally in Iraq. 
That is the news. "The kaleidoscope has been shaken," said Blair at the 2001 
Labour party conference. "The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. 
Before they do, let us reorder this world around us." 

With thanks to Frances Stonor Saunders and Hanna Lease. John Pilger's new book, 
Freedom Next Time, will be published in June by Bantam Press

Read more from the latest issue of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the New Statesman. For the latest in current and 
cultural affairs subscribe to the New Statesman print edition.

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