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Monday, February 27, 2006

Tony Blair: Democracy Abroad, Tyranny at Home?

The most extraordinary thing is happening in Britain--you know, the country where our legal institutions, constitution, and rights originated. Prime Minister Tony Blair is jeopardizing basic individual freedoms, including freedom of speech and due process. The circumstances are unpleasant: London Mayor "Red" Ken Livingstone made some appalling comments recently to a journalist from the Evening Standard newspaper. William Rees-Moog of the Times of London sums it up as such:

He attacked Oliver Finegold, a journalist from the Evening Standard, in terms that were particularly offensive to a Jew, and would have been highly offensive to anyone. Mr Finegold kept his temper. Livingstone asked him whether he was a German war criminal and said that he was just like a concentration camp guard. There were legal remedies open to Mr Finegold, but he was too sensible to take them.

What a complete disgrace to the city of London. Livingstone flirts with anti-semitism through his horrific, asinine, and mean-spirited comment. London voters should toss him to the curb when the next election rolls around. But even a travesty like Livingstone should should have due process in the face of lawsuits or state action. Those are the fundamental rights of a citizen in a democracy. Moreover, there needs to be respect for the fact that he was democratically elected (sad as that may be). But not in Tony Blair's Britain. The great exporter of democracy to Iraq ironically is making a mockery of it at home. Blair's government, via the actions of a obscure panel known as the Adjudication Panel, has suspended Livingstone from office for a month. Acting on recent legislation, they have suspended a mayor who argues that he has broken no laws and is an elected official. As city government expert Tony Travers from the London School of Economics noted, "It's an extraordinary thing for an appointed quasi- judicial body to suspend the elected leader of a city of nearly 8 million.'' Indeed.

This incident is part of a bigger debate in Britain about the Blair government and civil liberties in the post-9/11, post-Iraq invasion world. It's never a good sign when your prime minister has to write an op-ed piece with the title, "I don't destroy liberties, I protect them." But that's what Blair did in the Observer this past Sunday. What should be an assumption now has become a subject of debate. Check out this stunning quote from Blair:

In theory, traditional court processes and attitudes to civil liberties could work. But the modern world is different from the world for which these court processes were designed.

Read that again and ponder the implications. Wow. Then read the entire editorial and weep. Blair attempts a pragmatic solution to this alleged quandary but instead opens up enough cans of worms to start a bait shop. Here's Rees-Moog's response to Blair's statement:

The issue is more than a matter of a show-off mayor or a silly sub-committee of an unelected quango abusing its inappropriate powers. It concerns the ancient issue of “due process of law” that underlies Magna Carta, the English common law and the Constitution of the United States. Without due process, there is no law. A merely subjective judgment, lacking judicial safeguards, by an unelected tribunal, does not constitute due process...This view that due process is obsolete explains the Prime Minister’s conduct; it explains the connection between extradition without safeguards, detention without trial, Asbos without criminal offences, subjective and discretionary judgments, police powers to arrest, and increasing ministerial powers. They are all characteristic of Blair legislation; they all avoid due process of law. I wish I could think of an appropriately “offensive and insensitive” epithet to describe Tony Blair. Perhaps “antinomian” would do.

I think some of the old English Whigs may have suggested "tyranny."

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