So, the news that the Tories are backing the government's plans to give the Attorney General powers to halt inquiries "in the national interest" demonstrates perfectly for me why we are clearly not all the same.
Last year on the Today programme Alan Johnson was interviewed about Britishness. He flustered a little when invited by James Naughty to articulate what he meant by Britishness. In the end he came up with three values, Freedom of Speech, Tolerance and the Rule of Law. My response at the time was:
- Freedom of Speech - Maya Evans
- Tolerance - wearing the niqab
- Rule of Law - BAe systems
The response to the ruling on BAe systems by Labour and the Tories demonstrates perfectly where the clear blue water lies for us. We are it seems, on a slippery slope. Where is our moral authority (even in the eyes of the United States) to even begin to talk about international law when we think we are a special case? This approach emerges from the same stable that seeks 42 days detention, restrictions on the right to protest, ID cards and ultimately will undermine all the values that underpin our "way of life" that Tony Blair has apparently done so much to seek to preserve! When the SFO decided to drop the case they issued a press release. Amongst other things it said "It has been necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest".
I just had another look at who signed EDM 595 (initiated by Labour's Roger Berry). 55 Lib Dems, 52 Labour........but only 6 Tories. So whilst any legislation is likely to attract a reasonable Labour rebellion, the good old Tories will ensure Brown gets his way.
Maybe I am old fashioned, but I thought the rule of law was pretty fundamental and a principle that sat outside any other consideration. The potential consequences of replacing this principle with one that puts the "wider public interest" first is indeed serious. We are sending a message to the rest of the world that we can't be trusted. We are giving those in "Banana Republics" the perfect excuse to excuse their behaviour. As a post colonial nation we set ourselves up as bastions and defenders of how the rest of the world should live. Our values are the values that all civilized nations should espouse. Hmmmmmm, so as well as intolerance and restrictions on freedom of speech those values now include ignoring the rule of law when it suits?
Nick Clegg has been extremely effective in challenging this view. For me it highlights more than ever how the debate has to be about values. If we fail to understand and seek to communicate our values and beliefs and how they differ from the values and beliefs that drive both Labour and Tory policy, we will have missed a trick. But more importantly, I think we will be exposing this nation to greater, not less, risk.