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The Civil Contingencies Bill: A very British coup

David Carr (London) Civil liberty/regulation • UK affairs

I bet that if I mention the term coup d'etat it conjures up images of heavily-armed soldiers on the streets, tanks on airport runways and besieged radio stations. In truth, though, that is precisely the means by which such things are usually conducted. But they happen in faraway, third-world countries. It is the kind of thing we have come to associate with Oxford-educated 'Generals' who manage to wrest power from their tribal rivals in some African shanty-nation or with bandoliered, mustachioed Bolivians firing their carbines into the air and shouting "Viva El Nuevo Presidente" while the still-warm body of the old 'Presidente' swings from a nearby lamppost. But this is not the kind of thing that happens in developed countries like Britain. No, this is a stable country with a proper economy and elections and democratic governments and political parties and judicial independence and free speech and the such.

I suppose it is, in part at least, because complacency caused by all those institutions appearing to be extant that we are about to taken over in a quiet, stealthy and bloodless coup d'etat all of our own.

Not a shot will be fired. No-one will be rounded up. The airports will remain open and all the media will stay on air. For now.

No, the weapon of the revolution to come is made only of paper and it is called the 'Civil Contingencies Bill', due to become law next year.

Envisaged, ostensibly, as a means of giving the government sufficient emergency powers to deal with terrorist threats (as if they do not already have enough powers), the actuality is a lot darker and goes a great deal further than that.

The effect of the Bill, once passed into law, will enable any senior government minister to declare that an 'emergency' has happened or is about to happen and, entirely at his own discretion, enact any regulations he wishes for the purpose of:

* protecting human life, health or safety * treating human illness or injury * protecting or restoring property * protecting or restoring a supply of money, food, water, energy or fuel * protecting or restoring an electronic or other system of communication * protecting or restoring facilities for transport * protecting or restoring the provision of services relating to health * protecting or restoring the activities of banks or other financial institutions * preventing, containing or reducing the contamination of land, water or air * preventing, or mitigating the effects of, flooding * preventing, reducing or mitigating the effects of disruption or destruction     of plant life or animal life * protecting or restoring activities of Her Majesty’s Government * protecting or restoring activities of Parliament, of the Scottish Parliament,     of the Northern Ireland Assembly or of the National Assembly for Wales, or * protecting or restoring the performance of public functions.

In other words, regulations for any purpose whatsoever. And that is just the beginning. The Bill goes on to set out just what those ministerial fiats can do:

* provide for or enable the requisition or confiscation of property (with or     without compensation); * provide for or enable the destruction of property, animal life or plant life     (with or without compensation); * prohibit, or enable the prohibition of, movement to or from a specified place; * require, or enable the requirement of, movement to or from a specified place; * prohibit, or enable the prohibition of, assemblies of specified kinds, at     specified places or at specified times; * prohibit, or enable the prohibition of, travel at specified times; * prohibit, or enable the prohibition of, other specified activities;

The Bill will also enable said minister to abolish any law or statute at the stroke of a pen.

These are Bolshevik-style powers, so sweeping and totalitarian that they sound as if they have been lifted out of some 1930's banana-republic manifesto.

The effect (and almost certainly the intention) of these laws will be to give the Executive complete political control over the country. Bloggers or media owners who oppose the government can have their businesses requestioned and shut down. Political opponents can be put under indefinite house arrest or dragged before kangaroo courts. Meetings or organised protests can be disbanded and, theoretically at least, the Executive could even order Parliament (which is an assembly) to be evacuated and closed.

Under the rubric of 'terrorist threats' the Executive is about to equip itself with awesome and unlimited powers and let no-one delude themselves that these powers will not be used against, say, pro-hunt campaigners, petrol protesters and maybe even Samizdatistas. The Nulabour fantasy of complete control is shortly to be made flesh.

This is probably the last year of Britain as a liberal democracy yet the mainstream media is (as usual) asleep at the wheel. They will remain that way. It is up to bloggers to raise the awareness and ring the alarm bells in the hope that some opposition can be stirred into life.

See also the DVD of this gobsmacking political drama 'A Very British Coup'   by Chris Mullin MP. Makes an ideal Christmas gift - you can buy it from   Politico's top notch webstore for 7.20 (about 12 US dollars/euros)-