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.
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram