04 August 2009

Remember 42 days?

Really excellent point at Heresy Corner last month. After all that fuss, for weeks and weeks, about whether the counter-terrorism bill of last year would include the provision for detaining terrorist suspects for 42 days, the subject is now so forgotten that when the minister concerned talks about it, it is not newsworthy.

This is the best demonstration of my recent claim about the limits of voter influence. Because we all knew all along what Heresy Corner proves, that the argument was never about a concrete legal proposal at all. The question was a symbolic one. What was at stake was entirely feeling or impression -- did the government need to show it still wanted to do more for security, or was the whole fluid inspections, photography restrictions, CCTV thing going too far? Should we trust the security services or the civil-liberties lawyers? Would the new powers affect "ordinary people" or just outsiders, and if so was that a bad thing or a good thing?

The technical questions about arrest, and evidence-gathering capabilities before and after charge, PACE, legal discovery and so on were far too complex to be part of the debate, even with the enormous coverage the issue got. The questions of what it meant for the authority of Gordon Brown, the status of members of his cabinet, the future positions to be taken by the Conservatives, and the momentum of political sentiment in the public were much more tractable. The end result was the government lost. That was what it was all about, and the details of criminal procedure being no more relevant now than they were then, there is nothing more to be said.

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