The other day a group of about 20 Tory MPs met to launch the Conservative Civil Liberties Group. I stuck my head round the door to see what was going on.
As I came in, a distinguished Tory of vaguely wettish tendencies was saying that it was perfectly right that there should be a conflict between Tory desire for liberty and Tory desire for authority and security, bla bla bla.
I nodded my head in approval. We are all a bit schizophrenic on this one.
But there come moments, surely, when every Tory must want to stick up for ancient freedoms, as they are being removed by this Labour government.
Just what the hell does Charles Clarke think he is doing, arrogating the power – TO HIMSELF – to detain people indefinitely without trial? We have seen nothing like this since the 1940s, the decade in which the state made its most signal advances in eroding economic and personal freedom in this country.
Why are so few voices raised in defence of the principle of habeas corpus? Isn’t it blindingly obvious that if the state has enough evidence against a man to incarcerate him, it must have enough evidence to put him on trial?
What is the justification for this massive expansion in the power of government?
They say we are at war, and wartime deserves special measures.
Well, that is a premise I reject. We are not at war.
We face a terrorist threat from a group of maniacs, who have no discernible or intelligible political agenda except the restoration of the Caliphate, a project – unlike, say, communism, or the unification of Ireland – that means absolutely nothing to people in this country.
If we think these people are a threat, we should try them for conspiracy. The excuse, apparently, is that a trial would be damaging to the interests of the security services, since it would expose their wire-tapping operations.
That is not a good enough excuse for taking away a freedom that has existed in this country since the days of Wilkes. By all means bang them away. But it is a disgrace not to put them on trial.