Saturday, September 10, 2005

Yay for Democracy

These days, everyone's a politician.
The world has changed and there needs to be a debate on whether some erosion of what we all value may be necessary to improve the chances of our citizens not being blown apart as they go about their daily lives.
Eliza Manningham-Buller, MI5 director-general, 1st Sept, 2005
What's going on here then? How often do we normally get to hear the opinions of the head of MI5, and straight from the horses mouth no less? Not often as far as I remember. And such splendidly emotional language. She warns that changes "may be necessary to improve the chances of our citizens not being blown apart as they go about their daily lives". That seems to be unusually emotive use of language for the head of our security services, wouldn't you say? Maybe I've been watching too many spy dramas on TV but I would have thought she'd use a phrase like "may be necessary to improve our ability to deal with terrorist incidents" or something. Instead, the powerful image of bodies blown apart is invoked. It's almost as if this private speech was written for public consumption rather than for the Dutch Security Service.

The reporter hits the nail on the head.
Manningham-Buller's comments, made in a speech to the Dutch Security Service in the Netherlands on September 1 but only published on MI5's Web site on Saturday, back the position taken by the British government since the London attacks.
Yes indeed. This has all the hallmarks of the bastard offspring of politician and spy.

But why shouldn't Ms Manningham-Buller become involved in politics? Well...

The government is not quite immune to the possibility of having to debate their position. There is still an outside chance that an opposition MP or journalist will be able to successfully challenge the policies and opinions of government ministers. (Btw, do you remember when the public was still able to do that? Those were the days, weren't they?) Obviously the government works hard to prevent this, controlling access to ministers, refusing to participate in TV debates, imposing unsuitable time limits on parliamentary debates, and so forth. Nevertheless, some oversight might leave the government exposed; they might have to defend their policies in a real debate. They know this makes them vulnerable.

Ms Manningham-Buller has no such concerns. Journalists will not be allowed access to question the validity of her opinion. I don't know, but I suspect opposition MPs have limited access at best. And a member of the public? Well, that's just being silly. There is no significant way in which Ms Manningham-Buller's view can be publicly debated. Unless she makes herself available for such a debate, she should not participate in the political process.

But, and this is the real kicker, this statement does more than just support government policy. It also further restricts those who wish to question government policy, and most especially opposition MPs. How long will it be before we hear the Safety Elephant or Blair quoting the MI5 chief's words, probably along with an accusation that the questioner is deliberately threatening the national security of the country? That "answer" is almost certainly fully composed and ready for the next session of parliament. I may even try to maintain a count of how often it crops up. And all based on a statement of support of government policy from a secretive figure who just happens to be employed by the government.

Yay for democray.

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