Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/569/7008
Our democratic rights under attack by Labour
SINCE NEW Labour came to power in 1997, 60 new powers have been introduced in 25 separate parliamentary acts which have attacked and encroached upon our civil liberties. Shami Chakrabarti, chairperson of the Liberty campaign group, claims: "We have lived under one of the most authoritarian ages in living memory." She's not far wrong!
From 28-day detention without charge to new stop-and-search powers handed to the police and attacks on our right to protest, our democratic rights are being rolled back. These rights (which were won by previous generations of working people through struggle), are vital in the struggle to improve our conditions within this system and in the fight to transform society altogether.
But while our rights are being attacked, things are moving in the opposite direction for the representatives of the state. The question has to be asked: who watches the watchmen?
The Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 has made it an offence to "elicit or attempt to elicit information about an individual who is or has been- (i) a member of Her Majesty's forces, (ii) a member of any of the intelligence services, or (iii) a constable, which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism."
This could be used against an individual asking for the police identity number of an officer. Or simply taking a photograph of a police officer could be interpreted as an offence.
The police have been granted the power to stop-and-search and record details of ordinary workers and young people on a whim while we could be accused of 'preparing a terrorist act' if we were to ask the name of the officer searching us!
New Labour, with the Tories' backing, is making it easier for government agencies, private companies and international bodies to exchange personal data and surveillance information at the same time as blocking the release of government minutes. Calls for the minutes of the cabinet meeting that cost the lives of thousands of Iraqi civilians and hundreds of UK troops by backing the war in Iraq have been blocked by Jack Straw, amongst others.
Straw even has the audacity to claim: "People have the power to vote out administrations", if they don't like it.
But as the commentator Charlie Brooker put it in the Guardian: "Who the hell are we supposed to vote in? Despite a bit of grumbling, the Tories supported the veto [on cabinet minutes]. Because they wouldn't want cabinet minutes published either."
It is completely unacceptable for governments to act with impunity while ordinary people have their right to organise and fight back undermined.
We need a new mass workers' party so that we do have an alternative to vote for. But more than that, we need a socialist society that's organised and run in the interests of the majority with fully accountable representatives living in the same conditions as the rest of us to ensure genuine and permanent democratic rights.
In The Socialist 4 March 2009:
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
Socialist Party feature
Youth fight for jobs
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party women
International socialist news and analysis