Independent 11 March Letters
Warning: we are living in a 'Big Brother' state
Sir: I too, share the fears eloquently expressed both by Paul Donovan in his excellent article "Fear, terrorism and the erosion of our civil liberties" (28 February) and D Hughes (Letters, 5 March) that the UK's most dangerous enemies can be found in 10 Downing Street and the Home Office. I write as a former government supporter.
As well as the oppressive Terrorism Act 2000, and the TA and Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, we are now offered the innocuous-sounding Civil Contingencies Bill, whereby ministers will be able to assume draconian powers in a declared emergency, without having to seek parliamentary approval. Moreover, the state of emergency can be enforced for at least three weeks before Parliament is even allowed a debate or vote on whether it should be continued.
Blunkett's long term aim of entitlement (eg ID cards) will not stop terrorism, but will mightily increase the powers of a Big Brother state over the individual citizen. More than 50 years ago, George Orwell was asked if his book 1984 was written as a prophecy. "No", Orwell replied, "It's a warning. Don't let it happen!"
That warning echoes today with ever-increasing urgency.
Sir: R A Sellwood (Letters, 8 March) says our unwritten constitution has been imposed on us by "the powerful for the protection of their power" and so fails to protect us from "the authoritarian tendencies of Blair and Blunkett".
He wants a written constitution, but in our unequal society the same rich and powerful will always ensure that the constitution protects their power and privileges. It is a fallacy that a written constitution protects our freedoms more surely than one that is unwritten: the written American constitution allowed slavery notwithstanding all its talk of freedom and equality.
Any constitution is only as good as the determination the people have to uphold it and to mould it to protect their freedoms and rights.
Sir: I find it disturbing that, for example, Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue refuse outright to answer any telephone questions without first checking the postal address of the caller. (And they do check, I experimented with a fake post code just to make certain). When I queried this policy I was told it was so that inaccurate information would not be given out. (How, precisely?). How come NHS Direct are prepared to deal with anonymous callers when "inaccurate information" could have far-reaching consequences? Smacks of an incipient police state to me.
Sir: I was detained in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship for almost two years. No charges, no tribunal, no recourse to the legal system. Some people were tried by military tribunals, in secret. Many governments around the world have used similar methods and they have been labelled dictatorships. Why do we allow the US and the UK to do the same thing?
Sir: Monday's leading headline "Scientist 'gagged' by No 10" and the Government's response to the recent whistleblowing by Clare Short lead me to ask, do we no longer live in a society with freedom of speech?