Gordon Brown came up with a wonderful Blairite and Orwellian phrase this week saying he wants “to protect the security of all and the liberties of each” by extending detention for terrorist suspects to 42 days.
Brown did not fool anyone when he continued, “I’ve tried to build consensus around our proposals, but I am determined that we stick to our principles.”
The truth is there is no consensus for this policy because nobody asked for it.
It was not part of any party conference or manifesto.
He has simply tried to bulldoze it through with months of relentless bullying by party whips.
The 42 days detention for terrorist suspects has even been criticised by those who would have to enforce it.
The head of the department of public prosecutions, Ken McDonald, confirmed that the Crown Prosecution Service did not want and had not asked for an extension. Lord Dear, the former chief inspector of constabulary, said that every chief constable he has spoken to regards the change as unnecessary.
Even the man who provided the legal justification for the Iraq war, Lord Goldsmith, has warned that the policy could backfire.
Brown has, however, found one loyal supporter for his plans – Lord Carlisle, the independent reviewer of terrorist legislation. He has done a fantastic job of doing absolutely nothing, and has allowed draconian laws through without a murmur.
What has been missing from the debate is the effect of detention on people whose lives are turned upside down.
Even Carlisle has had to admit that the anti-terrorism “suite” at Paddington Green police station is inadequate. In fact the “suite” is an old, cold, stone corridor with no access to natural light.
Suspects are detained in cells with no human contact apart from their solicitor.
They have no access to family and friends, other than through monitored calls.
There is no TV or newspapers, and even books can be denied – we have had Nelson Mandela’s biography refused.
Even a few days of such treatment is distressing – the thought that anyone should endure it for 42 days is astounding.
Draconian detention periods, as well as punishing the innocent, will of course do nothing to stop terrorism.
The government accepts that no case has so far justified an extension over 28 days.
The government’s obsession with legislating away criminal problems in an attempt to be seen to be tough on terrorism reminds me of its strategy towards youth crime.
The endless punitive measures were exposed this week with a government report showing that the ten-year strategy for tackling youth crime has not significantly changed offending rates.
It’s possible that Brown will win the vote in parliament, but he will lose thousands of longstanding Labour supporters who will not back a government that attacks civil liberties.
Matt Foot is a criminal defence solicitor at Birnberg Peirce and Partners