Daily Archives: July 1, 2006

Henry Porter and Tony Blair: The letters

This exchenge of letters between Henry Porter to Tony Blair were published in The Observer earlier this year.

From: Henry Porter To: Tony Blair Re: Liberty

Dear Prime Minister,

Nine years ago, as I watched you arrive at the South Bank on the night when you became Prime Minister, I would never have imagined that I’d come to view you as a serious threat to British democracy. But regrettably I have. Either by accident or design, your ‘modernising’ Labour government has steadily attacked our rights and freedoms, eroding the Rule of Law and profoundly altering the relationship between authority and the people.

Successive laws passed by New Labour have pared down our liberty at an astonishing rate. The right to trial by jury, the right to silence, the right not to be punished until a court has decided that the law has been broken, the right to demonstrate and protest, the presumption of innocence, the right to private communication, the right to travel without surveillance and the details of that journey being retained – all have been curtailed by your legislation.

While hearsay has become admissible in court, free speech is being patrolled by officious use of public order laws. In Parliament Square we now see people parading with blank placards to make the point that they are not allowed to demonstrate within one kilometre of the Square under the new Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA). And this in the land once called the Mother of Parliaments.

For a democrat, this is all profoundly troubling. I hope that you believe you are acting in good faith; that you are simply motivated by the need to respond to the threats of terrorism and organised crime and the nuisance of anti-social behaviour, but I wonder if you have any idea of the cumulative effect of the 15 or so bills which have incrementally removed or compromised our liberties.


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Charged for quoting George Orwell in public

From The Independent

In another example of the Government’s draconian stance on political protest, Steven Jago, 36, a management accountant, yesterday became the latest person to be charged under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act.

On 18 June, Mr Jago carried a placard in Whitehall bearing the George Orwell quote: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” In his possession, he had several copies of an article in the American magazine Vanity Fair headlined “Blair’s Big Brother Legacy”, which were confiscated by the police. “The implication that I read from this statement at the time was that I was being accused of handing out subversive material,” said Mr Jago. Yesterday, the author, Henry Porter, the magazine’s London editor, wrote to Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, expressing concern that the freedom of the press would be severely curtailed if such articles were used in evidence under the Act.

Mr Porter said: “The police told Mr Jago this was ‘politically motivated’ material, and suggested it was evidence of his desire to break the law. I therefore seek your assurance that possession of Vanity Fair within a designated area is not regarded as ‘politically motivated’ and evidence of conscious law-breaking.”

Scotland Yard has declined to comment.

Enemies of the state?

Maya Evans 25

The chef was arrested at the Cenotaph in Whitehall reading out the names of 97 British soldiers killed in Iraq. She was the first person to be convicted under section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, which requires protesters to obtain police permission before demonstrating within one kilometre of Parliament.

Helen John 68, and Sylvia Boyes 62

The Greenham Common veterans were arrested in April by Ministry of Defence police after walking 15ft across the sentry line at the US military base at Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire. Protesters who breach any one of 10 military bases across Britain can be jailed for a year or fined ‘5,000.

Brian Haw 56

Mr Haw has become a fixture in Parliament Square with placards berating Tony Blair and President Bush. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 was designed mainly with his vigil in mind. After being arrested, he refused to enter a plea. However, Bow Street magistrates’ court entered a not guilty plea on his behalf in May.

Walter Wolfgang 82

The octogenarian heckled Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, during his speech to the Labour Party conference. He shouted “That’s a lie” as Mr Straw justified keeping British troops in Iraq. He was manhandled by stewards and ejected from the Brighton Centre. He was briefly detained under Section 44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act.

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