Without human rights, there is no real justice

A real test for Nick Clegg.

It began as a farce. In April 2009, the Met's then head of counterterrorism, Bob Quick, was photographed carrying classified case documents outside No 10. The papers, labelled "Secret" (like a prop from a Peter Sellers movie), revealed details relating to an investigation that Quick was overseeing at the time. Unscrupulous journalists splashed the gaffe across the front pages. The Clouseau-esque assistant commissioner resigned, muttering about the "terrific price" he had paid for his "foolish" mistake.

But the real price seems to have been paid by the 12 men arrested in the panicked swoop that followed. Working to a "revised time scale", the police hastily apprehended suspects in Lancashire, Manchester and Liverpool. Jacqui Smith, then home secretary, called it a "successful" operation; but no explosives were found and all of the men -- most of whom were Pakistani students -- were released without charge.

Among them were Abid Naseer and Ahmed Faraz Khan, both 23. They are now at the centre of yet more media hysteria, fuelled no less by the civil-liberties-averse Tories. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) has granted their appeal against deportation on human rights grounds, but has insisted that Naseer is an al-Qaeda operative and that Faraz Khan . . . erm . . . may have thought about becoming one (or, as Judge Mitting somewhat absurdly puts it, he could "safely be taken to have been willing to participate").

Siac should have deported them, says the Home Secretary, Theresa May, who insists that "protecting the public is the government's top priority". Accordingly, the Lib-Con gang is "taking all possible measures to ensure they do not engage in terrorist activity".

"Measures", for now, means control orders -- a controversial form of house arrest that takes its name from a similar programme used in apartheid-era South Africa. The orders allow the loosely defined "terror suspects" to be restricted in movement for an indefinite period of time, without charge or trial.

Writing in the Times today, Liberty's Shami Chakrabarti calls control orders "profoundly unfair and un-British"; Nick Clegg, too, denounced them in opposition. But living under the orders is preferable to the torture that could await the students, if deported.

In the wake of Siac's seemingly contradictory act of asserting the suspects' guilt while allowing them to remain in the UK, the flag-wavers have started to vent their paranoia. The Tory MP Douglas Carswell, for example, has attacked the ruling as "shocking and outrageous", citing it as a clear illustration that "human rights are not working in the national interest".

He seems to want the students hoofed out at all costs, regardless of what is right in the eyes of the world.

The reaction is hardly surprising; the Tories have long been champing at the bit to scrap the UK's commitment to the Human Rights Act, in preference of a British Bill of Rights. Chakrabarti perfectly summarises the attitude when she criticises the Tory instinct to prioritise "English liberties" over universal ones: their conception of freedom "attaches to nationality rather than humanity".

Human rights legislation must not be looked upon as an inconvenience. It is worrying that some voices among the Liberal Democrats -- who have officially described control orders as "an affront to British justice" -- seem to be echoing this reactionary sentiment. On Tuesday, the Liberal peer Lord Carlile said: "We do not want people who have been held to be terrorists walking our streets." But if they have been "held to be terrorists" in suspect conditions, surely the moral picture is clouded.

Sarah Kellas and Gareth Peirce, solicitors for Naseer and Faraz Khan, said in a statement:

The decision of Siac today in respect of the two students we represent is in fact, for them, the worst of all worlds. On the basis of secret evidence, which it refuses to disclose to the students, the court tells the world in its judgement that they are closely connected to an al-Qaeda plot to cause explosions in the UK.

The court acknowledges they have not been told why it comes to this conclusion, yet these young men have been branded publicly and thereby exposed to personal danger for the rest of their lives. Siac, moreover, refused them permission to appeal against its decision on the basis that they had "won".

This doesn't sound like British justice to me. It is hardly believable that such cases -- which make use of secret evidence, and refuse to disclose even to the suspects what makes them "terrorists" -- are being used to paint a picture of human rights GONE MAD (as the tabloids would have you believe).

Let's hope that the next five years don't lead to a free fall in the very values that define the UK: our universal rights to life and fairness.

Yo Zushi is a contributing writer for the New Statesman. His latest album, It Never Entered My Mind, is out now on Eidola Records and is on Spotify here.

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Former MP Bob Marshall-Andrews: Why I’m leaving Labour and joining the Lib Dems

A former political ally of Jeremy Corbyn explains why he is leaving Labour after nearly 50 years.

I’m leaving home. It’s a very hard thing to do. All of my natural allegiances have been to Labour, and never had I contemplated leaving the party – not even in the gloomy years, when we were fighting Iraq and the battles over civil liberties. I have always taken the view that it’s far better to stay within it. But it has just gone too far. There has been a total failure to identify the major issues of our age.

The related problems of the environment, globalisation and the migration of impoverished people are almost ignored in favour of the renationalisation of the railways and mantras about the National Health Service. The assertion that Labour could run the NHS better than the Tories may be true, but it is not the battle hymn of a modern republic. It is at best well-meaning, at worst threadbare. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life talking about renationalising the railways while millions of people move across the world because of famine, war and climate change.

The centre left in British politics is in retreat, and the demise of the Labour Party has the grim inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy. Ironically, history will show that Labour’s fatal flaw lay in its spectacular success.

Labour is, in essence, a party of the 20th century, and in those 100 years it did more to advance the freedom and well-being of working people and the disadvantaged than any other political movement in history. The aspirations of the founding fathers – access to education, health and welfare; equality before the law; collective organisation; universal franchise – have all to a large extent been achieved. The party’s record of racial and religious tolerance has been a beacon in a century of repression. These achievements have been enshrined in the fabric of British society and reproduced across the world.

The success brought deserved, unprecedented power and created political fortresses across the industrial heartlands of Britain. But with power, the party became increasingly moribund and corrupt. The manipulation of the union block vote at party conferences became a national disgrace. The Labour heartlands, particularly Scotland, were treated like rotten boroughs, and were too often represented by union placemen.

Instead of seeking a new radicalism appropriate to the challenges of the age, New Labour sought to ambush the Tories on the management of market capital and to outflank them on law and order: a fool’s errand. It inevitably succumbed to another form of corruption based on hubris and deceit, resulting in attacks on civil liberty, financial disaster and catastrophic war.

The reaction has been to lurch back to the status quo. The extraordinary fall from a massive majority of 179 in 1997 to a political basket case has been blamed on the false dichotomy between Blairism and the old, unionised Labour. Both have contributed to the disaster in equal measure.

I believe desperately in the politics of the 21st century, and Labour is at best paying lip service to it – epitomised in its failure to engage in the Brexit debate, which I was horrified by. The Liberal Democrats are far from perfect, but they have been consistent on Europe, as they were in their opposition to the Iraq War and on civil liberties. They deserve support.

But it’s a serious wrench. I’m leaving friends, and it hurts. Jeremy Corbyn was a political ally of mine on a number of serious issues. We made common cause on Tony Blair’s assaults on civil liberty and the Iraq War, and we went to Gaza together. He has many of the right ideas, but he simply has not moved into addressing the major problems.

To be blunt, I don’t think Corbyn is leadership material, but that is aside from politics. You need skills as a leader, and I don’t think he’s got them, but I was prepared to stick it out to see what happened. It has been a great, gradual disappointment, and Brexit has brought it all to the fore.

Frankly, I was surprised that he announced he was a Remainer, because I know that his natural sympathies have lain with a small cadre within Labour – an old-fashioned cadre that holds that any form of trade bloc among relatively wealthy nations is an abhorrence. It’s not: it’s the way forward. Yet there are people who believe that, and I know he has always been sympathetic to them.

But by signing up and then doing nothing, you sell the pass. Labour was uniquely qualified to confront the deliberate falsehoods trumpeted about the NHS – the absurd claims of massive financial dividends to offset the loss of doctors
and nurses already packing their bags – and it failed. Throughout that campaign, the Labour leadership was invisible, or worse.

At present, there is a huge vacuum on the centre left, represented in substantial part by an angry 48 per cent of the electorate who rejected Brexit and the lies on which it was based. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. There is no sign from Labour that the issue is even to be addressed, let alone actively campaigned on. The Labour leadership has signed up to Brexit and, in doing so, rejected the principles of international co-operation that Europe has fostered for half a century. That is not a place I want to be.

The failure to work with, or even acknowledge, other political parties is doctrinaire lunacy. And it will end very badly, I think. The centre left has an obligation to coalesce, and to renege on that obligation is reneging on responsibility. Not to sit on the same platform as other parties during the Brexit debate is an absurd statement of political purity, which has no place at all in modern politics.

The Liberal Democrats have grasped the political challenges of the 21st century as surely as their predecessors in the Liberal Party failed to comprehend those that faced the world a century ago. For that reason, I will sign up and do my best to lend support in my political dotage. After nearly 50 years as a Labour man, I do so with a heavy heart – but at least with some radical hope for my grandchildren.

Bob Marshall-Andrews was the Labour MP for Medway from 1997 to 2010.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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