Monday, January 22, 2007

A ministry for insecurity

So Blair’s “legacy” is mounting – the illegal invasion of Iraq, the cash for honours scandal, the break-up of public services from health to education and now a reorganisation of the Home Office and the creation of a National Security ministry. The name sounds sinister and undoubtedly that’s what the new department of state will be like in practice. Home Secretary John Reid – who may yet contest Gordon Brown’s coronation as Blair’s successor – claims that the reason for splitting his department in two is purely administrative. That’s about as plausible as the government assertion that identity cards are needed to fight identity theft! The first reason for creating a separate security ministry is to rescue the spurious “war on terrorism” campaign. New Labour has clearly failed to convince the electorate that this “war” is both necessary and destined to last for at least a generation (presumably until the last terrorist on the planet is hunted down and killed – i.e. never). A permanent National Security ministry is intended to focus minds and reinforce the official message that the threat from terrorism threatens civilisation as we know it and that meeting force with force is the only answer. Lumping the area of immigration and asylum with security will also reinforce tabloid-inspired prejudices about foreigners in general and Muslims in particular.

Secondly, it is likely that the new ministry will be under the control of whoever occupies No 10 Downing Street. It will thus centralise control over the forces of the state within the state in the hands of the prime minister of the day. That’s not just Blair’s intention but Brown’s too, in case anyone has any doubts that he will be softer than his predecessor. The ministry for National Security is one more plank in the authoritarian edifice that New Labour has built. Some of its victims have just opted to return to Algeria, rather than stay indefinitely locked up in Britain. They were jailed unlawfully under anti-terror measures, and when released were held again, this time on immigration charges. Denied a chance to clear their name and subjected to secret hearings, the men have chosen a return to a country where they risk torture and detention. Their lawyer Gareith Peirce said: “Why would any individual plunge into such fear and uncertainty if he had any choice? Each believes he faces torture or death, not because he has committed any offence, but because he has been branded (in large part by the UK) and each has concluded that he cannot by staying here ever hope to eradicate that branding. He therefore is choosing, he says ‘a quick death there rather than an endless slow death here’.” For these men there have been no convictions, no proper accusations, no knowledge of what is alleged against them and, for most, no questioning by police to discover whether untested secret assumptions might be wrong. It’s like a chapter from Kafka’s The Trial combined with Orwell’s 1984. And that’s before the new National (In)Security ministry comes into being.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

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