The new dawn of control orders-lite

The cynics were right. Control orders were repackaged and rebranded and it worked: the Lib Dems cave

Those of us of a cynical bent were, as usual, proved right. Control orders haven't been scrapped or "replaced" -- they have been rebranded, rebadged and repackaged. Officially, they're now called "Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures" but I agree with those who call them "control orders-lite".

Alex Deane of Big Brother Watch, who once worked as chief of staff to a younger David Cameron, has sent me his eloquent and erudite response and it is worth quoting in full:

Certainly, they have been watered down and renamed. But, while any dilution of these oppressive and unjustifiable orders is to be welcomed, their continuation is completely wrong. The orders, now replaced with "Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures", or -- and this just trips off the tongue -- "Tpims", are control orders with a cosmetic makeover. Yvette Cooper is right. What's been announced today is not the much-heralded (and promised) end of control orders -- rather, the government has simply modified control orders -- meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Control orders were introduced when the courts stopped the government of the day imprisoning suspected foreign terrorists who could not be deported. That was the explicit justification for them given to parliament. But, today, all the "controlees" are British. So what's the justification for them now?

The current 16-hour curfews will be replaced by an "overnight residence requirement", typically of between eight and ten hours. And the new powers will be limited to two years and will only be renewed "if there is new evidence that they have re-engaged in terrorism-related activities", which -- depending on what will be considered to be "new evidence" -- is welcome.

But, in many ways, the new orders are worse than [what we have] at present. These powers will no longer need to be reviewed every year -- plainly restrictions against those labelled terrorists without any sight of the evidence against them are now permanent. Furthermore, the "overnight stays", which might sound like a nice school trip but aren't, will be monitored using electronic tags. And the rest of the package of unpleasantness is still at hand if the powers at be want to wield them: curfews and further restrictions on communications, association and movement could all be brought in as part of "exceptional emergency measures", the Home Office said.

The injustice remains. The violation of the presumption of innocence remains. No matter how serious a judge claims things to be or how gravely he shakes his head, no assurance from a judicial source should be regarded as an acceptable substitute for a proper trial process. A judge is no substitute for a jury. It is simply never acceptable for the word of a servant of the state to be enough to lock you up -- no matter how senior or supposedly well-informed he may be. There has to be an external, verifiable, testable validation process that stands between the state accusing you and incarcerating you. In this country, we have established an excellent system of doing that: it's called a trial.

So, nobody will be fooled by this childish slight of hand -- except, perhaps, the Lib Dems, because none are so blind as those who will not see -- they can now pretend that they haven't broken their manifesto commitment.

But, of course, they have. Again. And, this time, they can't blame the deficit or the financial crisis or Greece or whatever else they've blamed in the past. The 2010 Lib Dem manifesto is clear. On page 94, it says:

We believe that the best way to combat terrorism is to prosecute terrorists, not give away hard-won British freedoms. That is why we will:

- Reach out to the communities most at risk of radicalisation to improve
the relationships between them and the police and increase the fl ow
of intelligence.
- Scrap control orders, which can use secret evidence to place people
under house arrest.

As I asked, in a Guardian piece last month: "The question the Liberal Democrats have to ask themselves is this: if they are not for liberty, then what are they for?"


Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Did Titantic do more for climate change than Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary?

Sex, icebergs and individual plight: the actor’s earlier outing teaches us more about vast disasters than his new docufilm about global warming’s impact, Before the Flood.

“Now you know there was a man named Jack Dawson and that he saved me . . . in every way that a person can be saved.” Or did he? For Titanic actor Leonardo DiCaprio, there is one way in which Jack never did rescue Rose: from the threat of climate catastrophe. 

Over the last 15 years, DiCaprio has made the issue a personal mission. Yet even in his role as UN climate ambassador, he stills feels far from heroic:

“If the UN really knew how I feel, how pessimistic I am about our future . . . I mean to be honest, they may have picked the wrong guy.”

So begins his new documentary, Before the Flood. A quest for answers on climate change, the film sees Leo racing around the world, marvelling at the sound of endangered whales, despairing at the destruction caused by tar-sands – “it looks like Mordor” – and interviewing a series of concerned experts, from professors to Barack Obama to the Pope.

There are plenty of naysayers to stand in his way and put him down. “Who better to educate world leaders on made-up climate change and a crisis that doesn't exist, than an actor with zero years of scientific training?” mocks one commentator from Fox News.

But if DiCaprio can gather enough evidence to believe in himself – AND believe that there are viable solutions out there – then so can we. Or so the story arc promises. His journey thus stands as a guide for our own; a self-education that will lead to salvation for all. 

It's all a little messianic. The film is even named after a biblical painting. And will those who don't already know who DiCaprio is even care? 

The sad fact is that, while DiCaprio’s lasting popularity still owes so much Titanic, the 1997 box-office smash that made his name, his new documentary fails to recapture the dramatic wisdom that put him there. It doesn’t even quip about the icebergs.

This is an oversight. Titanic didn’t win 11 academy awards for nothing. As well as a must-see rite of passage (pun intended) and soundtrack for infinite school discos, it taught me something invaluable about storytelling. Though I was not initially a DiCaprio fan, over the years I’ve come to accept that my lasting love of the film is inseparable from my emotional investment in Leo, or at least in his character, Jack. What Titanic showed so brilliantly was that the fastest way to empathise with suffering on a vast scale – be it a sinking ship or a sinking planet – is to learn to care for the fate of one or two individuals involved.

Every part of Jack and Rose's story is thus intimately linked with the story of the ship. Even that famed sex scene gains its erotic force not from the characters alone, but from their race through the blazing engine room (situated as it is between the foreplay of the naked portrait and the famous post-coital ending in the back of the cab).

And such carefully crafted storytelling isn't only essential to great entertainment but to great activism too. It can literally inspire action – as evidenced by fans’ desperate attempts to prove that both Jack and Rose could have climbed to safety aboard the floating piece of wood.

So would Before the Flood have been better if it had been a little bit more like Titanic and less like An Inconvenient Truth? Yes. And does that mean we should make climate films about epic polar bear love stories instead? Not exactly. 

There are many powerful documentaries out there that make you emotionally invested in the lives of those experiencing the consequences of our indirect (fossil fuel-burning) actions. Take Virunga, a heart-wrenching insight into the struggle of those protecting eastern Congo’s national park.

Sadly, Before the Flood is not one of them. Its examples of climate change – from Beijing air pollution to coral reef destruction – are over-familiar and under-explored. Instead of interviewing a Chinese official with a graph on his iPad, I would have preferred visiting a solar-panel factory worker and meeting their family, who are perhaps suffering from the effects of the smog in a way I can't yet imagine.

If you want a whistlestop tour of all things climate change then this necessary and urgent film is the movie for you. But those hoping it will give new depth to climate activism will be disappointed.

DiCaprio's distant relationship with the effects of climate change leave him stranded at the level of a narrator. He makes for a great elderly Rose, but we need a Jack.

Before The Flood is in limited theatres from 21 October and will be shown on National Geographic on Sunday 30 October.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.