Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/513/3528
The socialist review
PAPER MASKS, scissors and some toy soldiers. These are the offensive items found by 100 police officers, after holding three busloads of anti-war protesters for two hours. This is apparently enough to suggest a breach of the peace is imminent. So the bearers of these dangerous implements are denied their right to protest and the buses are sent back home, escorted down the motorway by police vehicles. So begins Taking Liberties.
Michael Wrack, Hackney Socialist Party
What follows is an indictment of the New Labour government taking away our basic rights and freedoms. The film names six basic liberties granted by the European Union Convention of Human Rights after World War Two, to protect them from the state: ban on torture; no detention without charge; innocent until proven guilty; right to privacy; right to protest; and freedom of speech. The film then shows how Tony Blair's government ignored them all.
It does this mostly by showing individual cases of people whose liberties have been taken away. Some of these will be familiar to everyone, such as the case of Walter Wolfgang. He is the 83-year old Labour Party member who had the temerity to say "nonsense" while Jack Straw spoke at the Labour Party conference. He was thrown out, along with Steve Forrest, another conference visitor who dared to say "leave the old man alone".
Other cases may be less familiar, such as the two grandmothers who walked into the area of a US military base and became the first people arrested under the "Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005".
Rather amusingly, while filming at the scene, two police officers asked for their details under the terrorism act. They refused and spoke about how ordinary people have suffered in order to gain civil rights.
This is followed by scenes of the suffragettes, and also of the anti-poll tax campaign, in which Militant (the predecessor of the Socialist Party) played a leading role. The campaign itself played a big role in bringing down Thatcher.
Aside from the moral and legal arguments, there is the question of whether taking away civil liberties actually achieves the governments' alleged aims. As one man, arrested for reading out the names of those killed in the Iraq war, points out, making protests near parliament illegal without police permission doesn't stop a suicide bomber filling out the form.
Sometimes taking away civil liberties has the complete opposite effect to that desired. This was the case with internment in Ireland in the 1970s.
A law allowing the government to keep suspected terrorists locked up without charge was brought in to fight the IRA but inevitably led to further anger towards the British government amongst members of the Irish Catholic community, who would then be more likely to look to such organisations for answers.
The government seems to have learned no lessons from this as we meet Mouloud Sihali. He is an Algerian man arrested in 2002 for allegedly making ricin in a flat.
Despite being cleared, Sihali has massive restrictions on his movements. The fact that lab results showed no sign of ricin did not stop both Blair and George Bush outrageously referring to the case in speeches leading up to the Iraq war.
It is fantastic to see the film end by talking of the need for ordinary people to make their voices heard, showing some of the single-issue campaigns mentioned in the film.
Socialists support all genuine forms of working-class struggle and as such would support most of these campaigns. However, we also realize any victories gained by these campaigns will always be temporary under capitalism.
Therefore the best way to take forward the fight to defend civil liberties is to link it with need for the socialist transformation of society.
In The Socialist 6 December 2007:
Workplace news and analysis
What we think
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party review
Post Office and CWU