Alan Pearce has worked as a journalist, broadcaster and author for thirty years. He has covered conflicts around the world and whilst the BBC Afghanistan correspondent im 1996 he was seriously injured covering the Taliban takeover of Kabul. He lives in France.
I am trapped in the plot of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’. I can see what’s going on all around me but everybody else is too busy watching ‘The X-Factor’ or ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ to notice. This government can now pass any law – no matter how appalling – and no one will say boo.
To my mind, they crossed the Rubicon this month with the latest Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, signing a law that allows a host of town hall officials, quangos and agencies from the Royal Mail to the Rural Payments Agency – even civilian investigators – to force their way into our homes, seize cash, freeze assets and confiscate property to recover minor fines.
In one of the most audacious acts of ‘function creep’, laws aimed at confiscating the yachts and villas of the masters of the criminal underworld are now been turned against the ordinary citizen should they fail to pay a parking fine or fall behind with their council tax.
To make matters worse, those collecting the debts will get a share of the proceeds which makes a mockery of our independent legal system. Will anyone be surprised if they now set their sights on the easy targets?
This government has already introduced 430 laws allowing officials to enter our homes. Debt collectors and bailiffs have remarkable powers allowing them to determine the amount of violence necessary to recover debts. And woe betides the house-holder who tries to stop them, with fines of up to £2,500 and a year in prison.
It amazes me that while our troops are apparently exporting democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan, we sit by and allow a minister to smash down the doors to our private castles by amending the Proceeds of Crime Act with a Statutory Instrument – effectively a flick of the pen that allows for no Parliamentary debate.
Even the chairman of the Police Federation, Paul McKeever, drew a sharp breath when he likened the move to the new terror and surveillance powers being turned on ‘bin criminals’ and potential school catchment cheats by junior council staff.
When I mention to people that next year (2010) they will need to apply for an exit visa to leave the country, they look at me in amazement. ‘What, Britain?’ they ask. Yes, the very same place that hosts the Mother of Parliaments, the cradle of modern democracy, etcetera.
According to legal publishers Sweet & Maxwell, around eight new criminal offences are added to the list every day. People are so numbed by the tsunami of legislation that they have entered the twilight zone and are happily oblivious to the changes around them. As Hitler put it: “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think.”
How fortunate for today’s establishment – and especially for the police – that so few can be bothered to notice let alone think. We need to remember that our greatest successes on the road to democracy have been achieved through public protest, not by the flourish of a minister’s pen.
Without the Suffragettes, the women of Britain would not have secured the vote when they did. You can go back as far as you like. King John was held captive at Runnymede until he signed the Magna Carta – and that act of kidnap is today seen as the cornerstone of our democracy.
With this latest intrusion, I wonder if there is no limit to what we will accept. Would we draw the line if they tattooed all of our forearms? Or would we accept it to safeguard our ‘freedom’?
The time has come to take matters into our own hands again because the government can no longer claim to be acting in our best interests. We must now ask:
Whose Side Are They On?
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