Monday, May 01, 2006

The Elephant is Still in the Room

Saftey is still Home Secretary then. A quick check on the BBC's Have Your Say reveals no surprises. People are extremely angry about this debacle and about the fact that he has so far refused to resign.

He should resign. In normal circumstances, I'd say he'll have to resign this week but this government has taken contempt for democratic accountability to a whole new level so can't say I'm sure it'll happen. But he should resign.

For those of us of a liberal left persuasion, I think it's important to separate out two issues as far as this situation goes. Bondwoman mentioned this in a comment to the previous post and I agree.

The issue which is dominating the headlines is the Home Secretary's ability, or rather lack of ability, to enforce the law as it currently stands. Given that 288 foreign nationals were released without being considered for deportation after Clarke learned that it was happening, his position is untenable. In a country where democratic accountabilty still meant something, this would unquestionably be a resigning matter. It remains to be seen whether it will be in a country like the UK where healthy democracy is on the wane.

The second issue is what the law actually should be. In this, I accept that my view is likely to be a minority one. In very short, my view of nation-states, ultimately, is that they are arbitrary constructs. In an island nation like ours, it's easy to believe that countries are somehow permanent, well defined and fundamental. This is untrue for most countries in a historic sense. The United States, for example, has existed in its current territorial form for only around 150 years (or less depending on where you draw the line. Hawaii - 1898?). Many people believe, however, that the current arrangement of nation-states and their borders is likely to be permanent. I think that's unlikely.

More to the point, I tend to think of people as, well, people first. It's not always easy but I try to abide by the principle that every human life is of equal value regardless of their nationality. That's why I find the phrase "collateral damage" so utterly contemptible. It is a devaluation of human life based on geography and nationality and is morally objectionable in the extreme as far as I'm concerned.

OK, this was supposed to be short so let's cut to the chase. I don't see why the United Kingdom, one of the richest countries in the world, should be deporting these people. It seems to me that we have the resources to attempt to rehabilitate these offenders and that the greater good will be best served if we do. In the end, just shipping off potentially dangerous criminals to countries where they're perhaps more likely to commit further serious offences isn't something I find satisfactory. In shorter, I believe we shouldn't pass the buck just because someone who committed a crime in this country isn't British.

Of course, the fact that our prison service is shamefully awful at rehabilitating prisoners doesn't help. If we had a government which actually cared about making long-term improvements to people's lives rather than controlling the next day's headlines, this appalling state of affairs would be high on the agenda. It isn't but it'd need to be if my policy was to be introduced.

As I said, I'm well aware that this is a minority position. I wouldn't even call for the government to introduce it currently because it would be acting against the will of the majority of the British public. The argument needs to be won first if my "hug a foreign criminal today" proposal is ever to see the light of day.

There is a certain irony in this which I'm sure you've noticed. What I'd advocate was pretty much exactly what was happening under Clarke's not even slightly watchful eye and yet I'm calling for his resignation. But why, you might just possibly ask?

Firstly, I'd point out that this wasn't a deliberate policy of Charlie's part (and that if it had been, it'd actually have been even worse). The fact that this was happening was due to incompetence, not policy decisions. If he'd wanted to do this, he'd have needed to make the argument first and he certainly didn't (and is never likely to either). For this failure, he should resign.

What's worse from my point of view is that it has presented an open goal to the borderline-xenophobes of the British tabloid press. As I said the other day, the BNP will be lapping this up with glee. The government is likely to respond with yet more back of a fag packet authoritarian nonsense to try to placate the baying mob whipped up by the headlines. Look out for the announcement of a new "fast-tracking" policy any day now. The result of this incompetence, then, is going to be a reactionary movement towards the policies of the BNP.

And this is just par for the course for this crowd. The political shift to the "authoritarian right" will, I fear, be one of the enduring legacies of this "progressive" government. That they've even got the gall to claim to be progressive is quite spectacular in its own ugly way.

Charles Clarke should resign. If he's looking for a face saving measure, perhaps he could announce that he's stepping down to spend more time with his lunches.

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