Chris Atkins has teamed up with the producers behind Michael Moore’s blockbuster documentaries to take their battle against the erosion of civil liberties to Britain. In the film dubbed “Blair: The Movie” by some, Atkins sets out to illustrate one of the better remembered aspects of Tony Blair’s legacy.
“The timing is really important with Taking Liberties,” Atkins told Socialist Review. “We wanted it to hit the cinemas precisely when power is being transferred from Blair to Brown, so we can tell the new leader that we’re simply not going to stand for this any more. What we’ve seen under ten years of Blair is the wholesale assault on every one of our basic civil liberties, and it’s time people woke up to what is going on before it’s too late.”
The film, narrated by Extras actress Ashley Jensen, features a wide spectrum of those fighting Blair’s attacks. Interviewees include the likes of Tony Benn and Mark Thomas but even go so far as to include Tory frontbencher Boris Johnson. While not carrying any illusions in the man, it is nonetheless interesting to see that Labour has attacked personal freedoms to such an extent that even the Conservatives can give the appearance of being on the side of liberty.
The film offers a telling history of civil liberties, and the drive to diminish them under Blair’s tenure. It is fascinating to see that freedoms taken away under Winston Churchill were rapidly returned following the Second World War. The history lessons are presented as beautifully crafted animations. Stylistically they may seem a little out of place amid the rough and ready reportage of the rest of the documentary, but they are stunning nonetheless.
As this film’s profile gathers momentum – skilfully engaging the MySpace generation with its inclusion as “featured movie” on the popular social networking website – it is no wonder that the forces of authority are worried about its impact. “We’ve been stopped and hassled by the police dozens of times while filming, and they clearly had us followed on several occasions,” said Atkins.
“The response from the government has been interesting. Mostly they refused to be interviewed, but we did get to meet Geoff Hoon and we quizzed him on rendition flights. He came out with some pretty amazing comments. It was only afterwards that his sweaty PR man said it was off the record. So we’ve printed what he said in the accompanying book.”
Taking Liberties gives a voice to those on the receiving end of the “war on terror” here in Britain. Omar Deghayes talks about his incarceration in Guantanamo Bay, Rose and Ellen Rickford on taking direct action against climate change at East Midlands Airport only to be interned for 24 hours and their house searched by armed police, also Mouloud Sihali, long cleared of involvement in the “ricin plot” (remember that?) but still kept under house arrest under Blair’s terror laws.
Not that Blair is the only villain in the piece. “You have to remember that Gordon Brown wrote the cheque for the Iraq war and for ID cards and has recently said he will increase the pre-charge detention beyond 28 days,” said Atkins. “He stood four-square behind Blair while he dismantled the liberties that have protected us for generations, so don’t expect him to suddenly hand all our civil liberties back.”
Unlike many radical documentaries of today, Taking Liberties is a refreshingly bottom-up view of the fight against what Atkins asserts is Blair’s attempt to create a police state. But rather than simply saying, “Look how wrong everything is,” the film offers hope, and inspiration, for change.
“Our only hope is that Brown is desperate to claw back some of the popularity that Blair has lost, so if it becomes a big political issue then he might turn back the authoritarian tide to try and win votes,” concluded Atkins.
“But that will only happen if people make enough noise on the issue to force him into action.”
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