The death-knell of democracy in the UK, as we have known it, was sounded today at a little after 12.30 pm. The Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, rose to read a statement to the House of Commons about the government's reaction to the recent Law Lords ruling that detention of foreign nationals for indefinite periods without trial breaches the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The Law Lords ruling stated that indefinite detention without trial of foreign nationals was discriminatory, because it applied only to foreigners and not to British nationals. Well, you can guess what is coming can't you, if not in detail then at least generally? This morning's newspapers were predicting (for example the Telegraph) that the government would actually comply with the ruling by releasing the twelve currently being detained illegally. I was not convinced that this was what was going to happen, but I couldn't put my finger on precisely why; my instinct was that some mechanism would be conjured up to allow the government to continue to hold these people.
To 'comply' with the Law Lords ruling, the Home Secretary is proposing to replace these illegal detentions with what are being called "control orders". Unlike the current detention regime these will apply to British nationals as well - so neatly circumventing the 'discrimination' judgement.
The control orders will provide for house arrests, tagging and controls on the use by affected people of technology such as mobile telephones and the internet. They will not have the right to be informed of the nature of the reasons for control orders being issued against them. There will be no requirement for charges to be laid against them or for their 'guilt' to be tested in a court of law - ever.
This has happened before in the UK, but only in time of war - during World War Two certain individuals who were considered a threat to national security in a time of national emergency were detained. Today's 'war on terror' is, however, a completely different situation - it could go on for decades.
From what I have heard since the announcement was made it is unlikely that there will be major opposition within Parliament (at least within the House of Commons) as it seems that the bulk of MPs consider these steps necessary, if 'regrettable' - decidedly not the word I would use. The fact that the orders will require to be renewed annually, as are the current detentions, is of little comfort given the seemingly supine nature of the bulk of our legislators.
What was announced today is nothing less than proposals for Britain to become a Police State. Today is the day when the terrorists have succeeded in subverting, perhaps fatally, any vestiges of what remains of democracy in this country.
UPDATE: (Friday 28JAN05 11.20 GMT) I wondered a little if I was perhaps being a little over-dramatic in my assessment of where the Government's latest wheeze was leading us. It seems, however, that people other than myself are beginning to voice their disquiet - even people such as George Churchill-Coleman, former head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad durng the late-80s and early-90s who was involved in efforts to counter the IRA in its mainland terrorist activities He probably does not strike most observers as a closet 'anarchist'. (Link to this Guardian article thru Guido Fawkes blog)