Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Happy days are here again...

Those detention without charge results in full:

90 days?
Ayes - 291
Noes - 322

28 days?
Ayes - 323
Noes - 290

28 days it is. There are two seperate consequenses of this result. It's hard not to mix them together but let's give it a go.

The Issue
The proposal was that it ishould be acceptable to imprison people for up to 90 days based on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities. This has been rejected by the House. I believe common sense has prevailed. A 90 day period would almost certainly have been counter-productive in the overall effort to provide security for the citizens of this country.

The House voted for a 28 day limit. To me, it's still an extraordinarily long time to hold anyone without charge and I'm sure there are better ways round the problem. Allowing the questioning of suspects to continue after initial charges have been made would seem to be a possibility. That has it's own problems but it'd probably be a better solution in my opinion. But, given the available options as they were presented, 28 days has to be seen as a positive result for democracy.

Having said that, there is the rather tricky matter of public opinion to address. Despite the highly dubious polling of recent days, it's probably still true to say a majority of people in this country backed some form of the 90 day proposal. As I've argued before, I believe this is a result of government manipulation of public opinion in conjunction with media terror hysteria.

This highlights a flaw in the democratic process and one that is difficult to overcome. At the risk of straying too close to Godwins Law, consider this:

German Election Results, 1933
  • Nazi Party (NSDAP) - 43.9%
  • Social Democratic Party (SPD) - 18.3%
  • Communist Party of Germany (KPD) - 12.3%
  • Centre Party (Catholic) - 11.2%
  • DNVP (Conservatives) - 8.0%
  • Bavarian People's Party (BVP) - 2.7%
  • German Democratic Party (DDP) - 0.9%
  • All Others - 2.7%
I'm not implying that the situations are directly comparable but they do highlight the same problem. Public opinion is not always the best indicator of what is best for the country. It's a difficult problem to tackle without suggesting some form of intellectual elitist power structure which opens a huge new set of problems. That's part of the reason why democracy can be so fragile and why protecting it properly is so very important. The problem can be overcome to some extent if politicians are open and honest and do not intentionally try to manipulate public opinion in illegitimate ways. Not a luxury we have in this country then. There are no easy solutions but it is important to at least recognise the problem.

As such, I see no contradiction in saying that today's vote is a victory for democracy, despite the fact that public opinion would appear to have supported the government's plans.

The Blair
In this very important case, it's a secondary issue but the margin of Blair's defeat was a joy to behold. The clock has just been wound forward a few notches. Tick tock...

Blair's reaction to this defeat would seem to leave him in an completely indefensible position. He still maintains that he was absolutely right to argue for the 90 days for reasons of national security. He still maintains that anything less leaves the country unacceptably vulnerable to further terrorist attacks. The House did not agree and rejected his proposal.

He says he's going to accept that decision and that is right and proper. But, if he genuinely believes what he says,* he must accept that he, the Prime Minister, has been unable to deliver the changes to the law which he believes are absolutley necessary to protect the citzens of this country. By his own admission, he has not been able to provide the changes he believes are essential to the defence of this country. If that's what he's saying, and that was certainly what he said in a Sky News interview he gave after the vote, then his position is surely untenable.

*I'm sure he's wrong but that doesn't matter here. This is about what our great leader believes.

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