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The decision by Gordon Brown’s government to push through 42-day detention without charge was wrong on so many counts that it must rank as one of the worst of the many bad decisions taken since New Labour came to power. At 28 days the UK was already by a wide margin top of the league of established democracies in the length of pre-charge detention. No evidence has been provided that this further extension is needed for anti-terrorist investigations, or that those responsible for those investigations are calling for it. On the contrary, it is likely to further alienate the communities whose cooperation is most needed for preventing terrorist atrocities, as the history of detention without trial in Northern Ireland demonstrated.
The measure was only pushed through the Commons by massive arm-twisting of Labour MPs, playing on their fear that defeat would destroy Brown’s remaining authority, and by the shabbiest of deals with the Democratic Unionists. And it has demonstrated the bankruptcy of the Blairite tactic of making up policy to wrong-foot the Tories, which has sunk Brown’s credibility since the autumn.
David Davis’s decision to resign his seat and fight a by-election on the issue was variously described as maverick, wrong-headed, self-indulgent and a waste of public money. It won support across the political spectrum, however, for two main reasons. The first is that it chimes in with a widespread feeling that our distinctive liberties are being eroded across the board, with Labour’s restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, the extension of mechanisms of surveillance, invasions of privacy, development of databases of all kinds, the plan for biometric ID cards and so on.
No doubt there are arguments to be made to support aspects of these developments. Jill Saward decided to stand against Davis on the platform ‘The liberty to live without fear’, especially women in fear of rape, and argued that the national DNA database and CCTV surveillance have provided essential tools in the fight against serious crime. Yet we should resist the extension of the DNA database to the whole population, as she has proposed, and demand much more effective safeguards to ensure that surveillance is not used for trivial or improper purposes.
Again, no threat to liberty may be entailed in the idea of identity cards as such, carrying basic personal information. I still have the identity card issued to me in the second world war, number LFZF 324/3, later transferred to my national health card. I carry such cards for identification in all kinds of situations – passport, driving licence, bus pass, European medical card and so on. What is wrong is trying to roll all these into one for administrative and personal convenience, and adding a whole lot of personal information, which no one can trust the government to gather correctly, to keep safe when gathered or not use for improper purposes.
So we need to get the balance right, and David Davis has tapped a widespread concern that the government has got the balance wrong, even though we may not agree with him on every detail.
A second concern that Davis has tapped into is the widespread distrust of parliamentarians and the political class as a whole. They are seen as unprincipled, more concerned with holding onto power and its personal benefits than doing what they believe to be right. The methods by which a Commons majority was achieved for the 42-days law epitomised these failings – and won support for Davis as someone prepared to sacrifice future cabinet office for a principle he believed in.
However, what Davis has not said, because as a Tory he is unable to do so, is that for the past 25 years parliament as an institution has proved a broken reed in defending the liberties of the subject in the face of executive encroachment. It was for this reason that the Labour government in 1997 found it necessary to introduce the Human Rights Act and give UK courts the power to enforce it against the executive and to caution parliament itself against potential legislative breaches.
The Tories have not been backward in accusing judges who do so of acting undemocratically, and have proposed to amend if not abolish the Human Rights Act. Yet the independence of the judiciary is an essential component of a democratic system, especially when it is defending the basic rights and freedoms necessary for citizens in a democratic society.
If Davis’s action serves to strengthen the liberal tendency in a future Conservative administration, then it may have served a useful purpose. But don’t hold your breath.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun