When the London riots broke out last August, I was particularly interested. You see, three days prior to the violence I had been staying in Hackney, one of the areas of London affected by the social unrest. So severe had the violence become in that area the subway station I had been using to travel to and from graduate school had to be shut down until the police got control of the situation.
As I kept up on the news, I confess my heart sank to see the lame reaction on the part of both the police and the British government. The pinnacle of this half-hearted response was when members of the coalition government criticised the number of lengthy jail terms given by the courts to the perpetrators of burglary, disorder and theft.
But my heart sank even more when I realized that, in all likelihood, the real legacy of the August riots would be the quiet and little-noticed legislative reaction which would move Britain one step closer to being totalitarian police state. I hoped that this wouldn’t happen, but as I observed in 2009, power-hungry governments are all too willing to use national emergencies as a cloak for introducing draconian laws. They know the public are all too willing to give up any number of freedoms if they can be persuaded that it is in the interest of public safety.
The fact that the BBC insisted on calling the thugs who were perpetrating the violence ‘protesters’ (thus subtlety turning a criminal issue into a political issue) made me suspect that the legislative response might be aimed at silencing political protestors. In a letter to a friend at the time I wrote
Mark my words because any social crisis or disaster ALWAYS results in more laws restricting freedom rather than what is needed which is simply better enforcement of current laws. What is needed is not more CCTV cameras, more laws about things you can’t do, greater government powers in response to an ‘emergency’, but a proper enforcement of current laws as well as citizens being allowed to organize to protect their communities when the police do not.
OK, I hate it when journalists say ‘I told you so,’ but . . .
At least it did not take me by surprise when I began reading in the papers that government was proposing to introduce new draconian measures ranging everywhere from the introduction of curfews to taking control of the internet. Consider the following:
- On 11 August, politics.co.uk reported that the Prime Minister was considering clamping down on Blackberry messaging service, Twitter, and other social networking websites used to coordinate rioting activity.
- On 23rd August, Children and Young People Now reported that government was considering legislation that “could be used against innocent groups of children who are perceived as being part of a gang.”
- On 27 August, the Telegraph reported that Eric Schmidt, the head of Google, was concerned by David Cameron’s comments about government interfering with the internet to try to stop violence from being plotted.
- On 13th October, the Belfast Telegraph reported that Home Secretary will be considering giving UK police the power to impose curfews, while the Guardian reported that she is suggesting the police should be able to impose specific curfews on select individuals.
- On 14th October, the Independent reported that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, provoked protests from civil liberties groups because of a planned increase in police powers.
The basic problem here is nothing new. Classical Greece and Rome had a tradition of appointing a dictator during times of national emergency. After the crisis finished, the dictator would step down so that government could return to normal, usually to some form republic or oligarchy. Following this tradition, modern leaders frequently appeal to times of real or alleged ‘crisis’ to persuade the populace to entrust them with enormous new powers. However, there is a crucial difference. During times of national crisis the ancients would be ruled by a person, whereas we are ruled by laws rather than people. The consequence of this is that the augmented power required by a crisis has to first be legitimized by legislation. And here’s the rub: the legislation does not step down after the crisis is over like the classical dictator did. In this way, an entire slough of totalitarian legislation can be built up over the years, like barnacles clinging to a ship, gradually changing the face of society from one of freedom to one of enslavement.
Portions of this article will be appearing in the monthly magazine of Christian Voice, a UK ministry whose website is http://www.christianvoice.org.uk/. The article is printed here with permission of Christian Voice.