Friday, November 13, 2009

House Points: After the Berlin Wall

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Civil wall

In Berlin Angela Merkel watched Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa stroll over the ruins of the Wall. Back in London our government chose a different way to mark the 20th anniversary of one of the most joyful events in European history.

It overturned Lords amendments so it will be able to hold inquests in private. It confirmed plans to compile a database, open to 653 different public bodies, of every phone call, text message, email and website visit made by British citizens in the past year. And Ed Miliband came to the Commons with plans to remove local democratic control from many planning decisions.

The end of the Cold War and the way the British people have accepted the erosion of their liberties ever since are connected. While the Soviet Union existed we – that is, the greater part of British society (leaving aside a large wedge of Labour activists) – had a clear model of the sort of society we must never come to resemble. Now that awful warning has gone.

But Monday’s events also reflect the way mere survival is now our highest aim. Liberty and the pursuit of happiness are nowhere in British politics these days. So national security is the justification the government gives for both secret inquests and its elephantine new database.

The welcome the green movement has given to Miliband’s plans to allow central government to impose anything from a nuclear power station to a wind farm on local communities shows it too been succumbed to this emphasis on survival. Forget enjoying the natural world: the environment is all around us and it is out to get us.

We needed light relief on Monday and Philip Hollobone was there. He is not quite David Tredinnick, but it was Hollobone who broke into the heated Commons question time on the death of Baby Peter last year (“On another subject...”) to urge Ed Balls to encourage children to take up the ocarina.

His contribution this time: “Rugby has Twickenham, football has Wembley, and now volleyball has Kettering. Would the Minister like to congratulate the English Volleyball Association on choosing Kettering for its national training and competition centre?”

Think of Mr Hollobone as the sort of harmless eccentric we fought the Cold War to defend.


Darrell said...

I think to say that the end of the Soviet Union is the reason for the erosion of civil liberties is simplistic; it's not as if abuses didn't occur when it was around as is your association of the Labour Party with the SU.

The real problem is the national security defence which has gained so much more currency following the advent of the 'war on terror'; however, it is ironically the one that was also used post-wall collapse...

Jonathan Calder said...

I suggest that it is one reason. That is not being simplistic.