Baroness Helena Kennedy called it “government without wing mirrors.” It is the practice of passing into law draconian measures that the government of the day claims to be too nice or too sensible to ever use against the people:
“It is… vital that any process of modernisation or reform must take place against a backdrop of principle: a retreat from the rule of law, human rights and civil liberties is short-sighted and unthinkable. Yet such a retreat is precisely what is taking place. A quiet and relentless war is being waged on our rights. One individual encroachment on freedom can seem inconsequential or even justifiable if the reasons given are sufficiently seductive, but taken as a whole a pattern begins to emerge which should leave none of us feeling sanguine.”
That was written in 2003, during the New Labour years. In the guise of fighting terrorism, the Blair government introduced mass surveillance and removed protections that were initially included in Magna Carta. Post Blair, UK citizens can be detained and tried in secret without legal representation and denied the right to challenge the case brought against them. But, as Blair used to remind us, we – ordinary folk – have nothing to fear: “you can trust me, I’m a good guy.”
Despite their insane desire to read all of our e-mails and to check out which porn sites we access, Cameron and May are also “good guys” insofar as they have not seen fit to broaden the use of the anti-terror laws bequeathed to them by New Labour – bad news if you are young and Muslim, but not a problem for the Tory-voting white middle classes.
Kennedy warns us of what may come next:
“People are easily alarmed by the idea that barbarians are at every gate, including their own, in the form of asylum seekers and criminals. As a result they are prepared to sacrifice a significant level of freedom and privacy in exchange for greater security. The temptation is for governments to read expressions of public fear and the willingness of citizens to make sacrifices as giving them carte blanche to rewrite underlying principles of law.”
The question that we should have asked, however, is how a less decent government might act? What, for example, might a racist, misogynist, right-wing demagogue do with a raft of draconian legislation handed over to him by the “good guys”? Well, one of the things he might begin by doing is to ban any further Muslim immigration into his country. Even refugees fleeing a war zone might be detained at the airport and deported back to the country they were fleeing.
Consider the text of this presidential decree:
“by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, as amended (8 U.S.C. 1182(f)), and section 301 of title 3, United States Code, hereby find that the unrestricted immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of persons described in section 1 of this proclamation would be detrimental to the interests of the United States. I therefore hereby proclaim that:
Section 1. The entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of the following persons is hereby suspended…”
The President went on to specify six countries – Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
“Wait a minute” I hear you say, “What about Syria?” “Surely Donald Trump also banned immigration from Syria.”
Syria wasn’t on that list; and for good reason. At the time that list was drawn up – August 2011 – unlike those other states, Syria was yet to be subjected to US bombing and drone strikes. That decree and list of countries was introduced not by Trump, but by Obama.
Trump’s Executive Order mentions just one country – Syria – which gets added to Obama’s list:
“Pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.” (My emphasis)
This is the only point at which a state is named in Trump’s Executive Order. The other countries on that list were put there by the Obama administration. To an extent, this serves to highlight the hypocrisy of the left and many within the mainstream media. When their guy was introducing laws to allow the banning of immigrants from a range of majority Muslim countries – primarily those that their guy was bombing and drone striking, by the way – there were no howls of outrage, mass petitions, airport blockades or protest marches; because their guy was a good guy. And to the extent that Obama never did place a blanket ban on Muslim immigration, that is true. But as Kennedy notes:
“The rhetoric of all governments who reduce rights is that they are doing so for a good reason, in the interests of the people and to counter disruptive elements in society. And we, the citizens, can easily feel that the current move is all about the ‘other’ – terrorists, criminals, paedophiles, prostitutes, the mentally ill, Muslims, young blacks. We always think it is other people’s liberty that is being traded, which somehow makes it alright. We do not realise that liberty is not divisible in this way.”
The point is that in our post-Brexit, Post-Trump world the usual rules of governmental circulation have been consigned to history. We can no longer count on the guy who comes next being more or less the same as our guy but wearing a different colour tie. In future we can look forward to extremist leaders from both left and right (neither of which historically has a good track record on human rights) as the parties of the centre prove increasingly unable to solve the problems facing the majority of their people.
In the US, citizens opposed to Trump might rightly worry about the plans he has for the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay that Obama never got around to closing. In the UK we have every reason to fear our own post-Brexit demagogue emerging from the far right or left of politics as the UK’s economy continues to falter in the run up to the 2020 election. What might our demagogic leader do with New Labour’s assaults on our civil liberties?
In Donald Trump we have the living embodiment of the kind of leader we can look forward to. And anyone who is still drinking the “it couldn’t happen here” Kool-Aid should consider that prior to the early hours of 9th November 2016, few people thought it could happen there either. So in future, we should subject any legislation that limits established freedoms and rights to The Trump Test – the simple question of what a leader like Trump would do if we gave him these new powers.
By this standard, Theresa May’s “snoopers charter” fails; as does most of the anti-terror legislation introduced by New Labour. In any sane world, we would be reviewing and overturning the assaults on civil liberties that have been introduced in Britain since Blair dragged us into the disastrous Iraq war. But most of the political class are even more deluded than we are. Despite the evidence that Donald Trump is, indeed, the President of the USA and is currently going full-tilt to deploy as much of the draconian legislation that Obama put/left on the statute books, our own political leaders continue to believe that it could not happen here. As with so much else… they are wrong!