Thursday, 29 April 2010

Election 2010: Defending our Freedoms

In 2009, I wrote The Assault on Liberty, a lament for our lost freedoms, salami-sliced over 13 years under this Labour government. From pointless ID cards to draconian proposals to extend detention without charge (Labour wanted longer than they have in Zimbabwe or China). From a DNA database with 1mn innocent people on it - but two million criminals off it - to the state snoopers who trailed children home from school to check their catchment area. From the ban on free speech outside Parliament, to the political correctness that suffocates legitimate debate. There has been a tidal shift in the relationship between the citizen and the state - in favour of the state, and at the expense of our basic freedoms. We need to reverse the balance. The state should be accountable to the citizen, not the other way round.

As well as writing The Assault and speaking out at seminars (see below), I have advised on Conservative policy in this area, and I am delighted that we are campaigning in this election on a range of practical measures to strengthen our personal freedoms, including:

  • Scrapping ID cards, so we get rid of the Big Brother database holding 50 separate items of our personal information.

  • Revising RIPA, the surveillance legislation, so intrusive surveillance powers are only used for serious crimes.

  • Scaling back the 1,000-plus state powers to force their way into the home - including to check fridges and the height of hedgerows.

  • Ending the permanent or prolonged retention of innocent people's DNA on the DNA database.

  • Reviewing the Extradition Act, to prevent arbitrary abuse of the fast-track system.

  • Replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, for example, to strengthen free speech.
Whilst we must strengthen the protection of our core freedoms, we also need to stop pretending 'human rights' are all things to all people. It seems that almost any gripe or grievance today can be dressed up in the elastic language of human rights. For example, a prisoner at HMP High Downs in Sutton is suing the prison for withdrawing cigarette privileges as a disciplinary sanction for misbehaviour - he claims the withdrawal of cigarettes is 'inhuman and degrading treatment'. The taxpayer is funding both the claim and the prison service defence. This is a ludicrous waste of taxpayer's money, an abuse that undermines public confidence in the very concept of human rights. As well as restoring our fundamental freedoms, a British Bill of Rights can also sharpen the definitions and clarify the interpretation of 'human rights', so we cut out some of this nonsense and restore a bit of common sense.


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