Labour accused of hyping up threat
Images of the World Trade Centre attacks heralded the Queen's Speech. Political Editor Graham Dines looks at tough measures to combat terrorism. COINCIDENCES rarely happen in politics.
Images of the World Trade Centre attacks heralded the Queen's Speech. Political Editor Graham Dines looks at tough measures to combat terrorism.
COINCIDENCES rarely happen in politics. Which is why the thwarted terror attacks on Canary Wharf and Heathrow Airport were "uncovered" by the media just hours before draconian security measures were announced in the Queen's speech.
The Government is heading towards a General Election, preparing to introduce some of the most authoritarian laws Britain has ever seen in peacetime.
And to get the public on-board, what's the harm of pump priming the fear factor felt by most Britons in the wake of the 9-11 attacks and the increased probability of a terror attack in the UK following the invasion of Iraq?
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Of course, commentators and opposition politicians who have seen through this little ploy have immediately been stamped on and accused of being "patronising."
If Britain's security services did indeed uncover and stop terrorist outrages involving crashed aeroplanes at Canary Wharf and Heathrow – and one must suppose it's true because not even this Government would be so duplicitous to invent such a story – then why wait until the even of the Queen's speech to ensure it is filtered into the public domain?
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The answer is that for a Labour government, the proposals announced for a Counter-Terrorism Bill are nothing short of illiberal and the public have to be motivated to support the trampling over the objections of the civil liberties "lefties."
Although few details were given in the speech, the Bill is expected to include provisions such as no-jury terrorism trials and the use of phone-tapping evidence in court.
"My Government recognises that we live in a time of global uncertainty, with an increased threat from international terrorism and organised crime," intoned Her Majesty. The theme of the next parliamentary session, she announced, would be "security and opportunity for all."
These are aims which I am in doubt the public support – Commons Leader Peter Hain says eight out of 10 voters back the introduction of identity cards. Which makes the timing of the terror attack stories all the more tawdry.
It has opened the way for the Government to be accused of fostering a climate of fear.
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary chairman Matthew Taylor, referring to the attacks in 2001 in New York and earlier this year in Spain, said: "Crime and terror would be better addressed with 10,000 more police and a National Border Force, rather than wasting £3 billion on ID cards that didn't protect people in the US or Spain and which would curtail British rights and liberties."
Tory Party co-chairman Dr Liam Fox also accused the Government of seeking electoral advantage by fostering an atmosphere of fear. "It is clear that they are trying to raise the fears from terrorism in the country at the present time. Now I think that is quite despicable, but it is a desperate Government."
Tut-tut retorted Home Secretary David Blunkett. How could you think we are so disingenuous?
"It is my job behind the scenes to make sure, as we have done, that we double the capacity of the security services, that we invest in protection, that we put in place as we are doing with ID cards and the new organised crime legislation, the necessary measures to secure our future."
It was not about the politics of fear, but taking sensible and commonsense measures to protect people.
"These measures will make communities safer and strengthen democracy. They will enable law-abiding citizens to live free from disorder and crime."
Mr Blunkett added: "People are more secure today than seven years ago. But fear of crime and insecurity remain too high, partly because the incidence of crime is moving from the impersonal to the personal - in the anti-social behaviour and drink-driven thuggery we see on our streets or in the unseen but ever-present threat from new forms of terrorism.
"The legislative programme set out today addresses these concerns, taking on the challenges of rapid social and economic change and protecting the community and the nation from existing and new threats."
Mr Hain went further. "If you are bombed by a terrorist, what is your liberty then? In the end, people have to be safe to enjoy their liberty."
The Queen's Speech – the gracious address – was delivered from the golden throne of the House of Lords. Pomp and ceremony, which the British do so well, was accompanied by heightened security at Westminster, with police officers armed with sub machine guns patrolling the streets of Westminster as well as the precincts of the Palace of Westminster.
Wearing the Imperial State Crown, the Queen delivered the outline of the Government's programme – there was nothing much new because it had been drip fed to the media during the previous three days – but there was just one thing on the minds of MPs who had been summoned to the Lords to listen – just when will the General Election be held?
It has been widely assumed – and because the timing is at the personal behest of the Prime Minister, it can only be a guess – that the election will be held in either May or June.
Then yesterday morning up pops the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, still reeling from the ignominious defeat of his pet project from elected regional government by the electors of the North East, to suggest an election might be "12 or 18 months away."
Either Mr Prescott is completely out of touch or his comments were an attempt to plant a little mischief among the Conservatives, who despite the public's lack of trust in the Government, are heading for a third successive thumping at the election.
Getting tough on law and order and terrorism is the most audacious theft yet by Tony Blair of traditional Conservative policies.
The Queen's Speech was designed to promote a third term in power for Tony Blair. It would have been so much better if it had not been accompanied by so much New Labour's hype and spin.