Timothy Garton Ash says liberty in Britain is facing death by a thousand cuts:
For 30 years I have been travelling to unfree places, from East Germany to Burma, and writing about them in the belief that I was coming from one of the freest countries in the world. I wanted people in those places to enjoy more of what we had. In the last few years, I have woken up – late in the day, but better late than never – to the way in which individual liberty, privacy and human rights have been sliced away in Britain, like salami, under New Labour governments that profess to find in liberty the central theme of British history.
Today, Britain has such broadly drawn and elastic surveillance laws that Poole borough council could exploit them to spend two weeks spying on a family wrongly accused of lying on a school application form. The official spies reportedly made copious notes on the movements of the mother and her three children, whom they referred to as “targets”, and watched the family go home at night to establish where they were sleeping. And this is supposed to be modern Britain?
Let’s be clear: though the Stasi headline is irresistible, such Stasi-nark methods do not yet make a Stasi state.
Yet. Give ’em another 20 years, and ordinary people in Britain will be afraid to speak their minds for fear of the state.
With a few notable exceptions, such as David Davis, most of our MPs have been complaisant and pusillanimous beyond belief as our liberties have been chipped away. So, for example, last week the home secretary pathetically and idiotically banned the Dutch MP Geert Wilders from entering the UK to show his noxious and offensive anti-Islam film at the invitation of members of the House of Lords. Result: a curtailment of free speech that gives Wilders more free publicity than he could otherwise have dreamed of. And how does the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne react? Oh, that’s all right, he says, because the film is really offensive. Well, d’oh. Call yourself a liberal?
Indeed. Wilders shouldn’t have been banned from the UK. Because freedom of speech means the freedom to say things people find offensive, and if human rights can protect obnoxious people like him, they’ll protect me too.