The British Reich

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As Air Force One touches down back in the Land of the Free, its VIP passenger will have few cares as he smugly contemplates the rolls of fresh election footage film he harvested on last week’s trip to Britain.

The irony will no doubt escape him that these were mostly composed of the successor to the office of Washington and Jefferson bowing and scraping to the descendants of their would-be oppressor, exemplars of the kind Tom Paine called, "the principal ruffian of some restless gang, whose savage manners or pre-eminence in subtlety obtained the title of chief among plunderers."

Nor will he be overmuch concerned if his "Good friend, Prime Minister Blair" has received more dubious benefits from his American colleague’s expensive jaunt — for brickbats aplenty there were for our Tony.

According to the Independent, Claire Short, who resigned from the UK Cabinet shortly after the Iraq war, responded to the meeting by telling a TV interviewer that her erstwhile Leader had "swallowed the whole argument of the American neo-Conservatives."

There will be few who argue with this assessment, whether from among the members of that sinister coterie which surrounds President Bush and fills his head with Apocalyptic visions of his role in history, or from among the hundreds of thousands of good British folk who have taken to the streets over the past year to protest Blair’s rush to war at the Imperator’s side.

More damning still, Ms Short — who, after all, must know the Leader very well indeed — went on to declare:

"He wants to be sort of messianic, and say everything’s about moral principle. He likes to be sort of right-wing, and he’s quite shallow … He’s just taken this in, hook, line and sinker."

A messianic leader who counters every argument through an appeal to his own inner voices and his unique moral compass?

Does this not have an uncomfortable ring about it, calling to mind another "man of ideas" who, once he had risen to head another great country in Europe, led it inexorably to tyranny, barbarity, and — at length — utter ruin?

But, no, we exaggerate, surely?

This is, after all, the man who holds the office of Prime Minister, the first among equals in the Mother of Parliaments, the leader of the country of Magna Carta, of the Scottish Enlightenment, of the Common Law, habeas corpus, and Blackstone.

This was also the man who had the temerity to declare with all the ersatz sincerity he is so adept at mustering, in the course of the press conference given alongside George Bush:

"I believe that if people are given the chance to have freedom…they welcome it… And the reason why they like freedom is because then, if you have got freedom, and democracy and the rule of law, you can raise your family, you can earn a decent standard of living, you can go about your daily business without fear of the Secret Police or terrorism…"

"On this issue I believe that… in the end the best security we can have is not just through our Armed Forces and Intelligence Services, magnificent though they are, but actually through our values, through the spread of those values of freedom, and justice and tolerance throughout the world…"

Fine words indeed, but these, in the old British usage, butter no parsnips.

For, sadly, this is also the man who, the press reports, is about to unveil sweeping new laws, arrogating to himself powers so draconian they would make many a tinpot dictator or Collectivist monster drool in anticipation.

Again turning to the Independent , we read that the deceptively innocently titled "Civil Contingencies Bill" will, once an "emergency" has been proclaimed by the Queen (in truth, by that elective dictator, her prerogative-empowered first minister), "the Government can order the destruction of property, order people to evacuate an area or ban them from travelling, and ‘prohibit assemblies of specified kinds’ and ‘other specified activities’."

The list of such emergencies is, of course, suitably all-encompassing, being defined as "any event that represents a serious threat to the welfare of the population, the environment, political or economic stability, or security of any part of the UK. This includes wars, floods, a breakdown of power supplies, outbreaks of animal diseases or" — most worrisome of all — "any situation that ’causes or may cause disruption of the activities of Her Majesty’s Government’."

Civil rights activists say that, among other enormities,the Government will have the power to suspend parts or all of the Human Rights Act without a vote by MPs, while street demonstrations — of which there have been several of late, unprecedented in both size and scale, as the citizens in their hundreds of thousands have sought to display their disgust at many of their Leader’s policies — will be subject to being banned, and those who travel to such a protest will immediately guilty of a criminal offence.

Oh, for a Milton to fulminate against such despotism, as he did in "The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates," when he wrote:

"Monarchy unaccountable, is the worst sort of Tyranny; and least of all to be endur’d by free born men."

Or again, more pointedly, referring to a previous Scot set in charge over the whole of the mainland:

"No Prince so native but professes to hold by Law; which when he himself overturns, breaking all the Covnants and Oaths that gave him title to his dignity, and were the bond and alliance between him and his people, what differs he from an outlandish King, or from an enemie?"

But we do not have to struggle with the archaic, if pertinent, prose of a seventeenth-century polemicist and playwright.

Recall instead the provisions and language contained in the Blair Bill as you consider the words of the infamous Reichstag Fire Decree of Feb 28th 1933 — soon to be underpinned by the similarly innocuously named "Enabling Act" of March of that year, which latter made the Fuehrer’s will the only constitution to which the German people could thereafter look.

"ARTICLE 1. In virtue of paragraph 2, article 48,* of the German Constitution" — [namely: "If public safety and order in Germany are materially disturbed or endangered, the President may take the necessary measures to restore public safety and order, and, if necessary, to intervene with the help of the armed forces. To this end he may temporarily suspend, in whole or in part, the fundamental rights established" in the articles outlined below] — "the following is decreed as a defensive measure against communist acts of violence, endangering the state:

"Sections 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153 of the Constitution of the German Reich are suspended until further notice. Thus, restrictions on personal liberty [114], on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press [118], on the right of assembly and the right of association [124], and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications [117], and warrants for house-searches [115], orders for confiscation as well as restrictions on property [153], are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed."

But, surely opposition will be swift to arise to this extremely dangerous exercise of executive power, for modern Britain, whatever its petty vices, is no decaying Weimar republic, riven by extremism and plagued by those who seek only to worship at the altar of a reinvigorated state and to cast themselves at the feet of the false prophet promising to restore it

Really?

Then why did the Scotsman report that:

"THE Government’s plans for dealing with terrorist attacks are ‘dangerously flawed’ and ‘too little, too late,’ an all-party group of MPs and peers will claim this week."

The paper reveals that a cross-party committee of MPs and Lords — commissioned by the government to examine the draft legislation — claims only that the proposals, as they stand, have "potentially dangerous flaws," not those dangerous to liberty, you will note, but rather dangerous to their efficacy as instruments of arbitrary rule.

Thus, faced with such a dire threat to our ancient freedoms, the cross-party group of parliamentarians can only find the energy to criticize the government for failing to provide additional revenue for all this pernicious counter-terrorist and emergency planning!

Moreover, their "damning" report will allegedly bemoan not only the lack of money earmarked for the purpose of buying our fetters, it will complain, as one MP put it:

"It’s very vague. It’s all theory, a paper tiger which gives the government plenty of powers but no muscle."

Ominously, too, that stalwart protector of the rights of the citizenry, Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, was quoted as saying that it was "absolutely essential" for the police to be given yet greater powers in an "incredibly dangerous world."

Perhaps this is the opportune moment to reiterate the words of the prominent anti-Nazi and Lutheran Pastor, Martin Niemoller, written in 1945 after he was freed from Dachau.

"First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me." There is one obvious difference with events today: it will not be the Jews who "they" come for, but members of Britain’s predominantly law-abiding and laudably entrepreneurial Muslims, given Blair Foreign Office apparatchik Denis MacShane’s echoes of Bush’s Manichean "with us or against us" language in his recent assertion that it was: "Time for the elected and community leaders of British Muslims to make a choice… the British way… or…the way of the terrorists… I hope we will see clearer, stronger language that there is no future for any Muslim cause anywhere in the world that validates, or implicitly supports, the use of political violence in any way." Except here at home in the Reich, one presumes, Denis.

Sean Corrigan [send him mail] writes from London.

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