Rory's week - Rory Bremner can't help agreeing with John Major

Let's look on the bright side: there are a lot of people in Guantanamo who'd give their eye teeth to

Once again, the gods have come up with a wonderful piece of comic timing. I wonder if Tony Blair appreciated the irony of the Chinese president visiting Britain at the very moment that Blair was trying to force through legislation that would allow the state to hold people for 90 days without trial, without proof and without charge. Probably not. It must be the first time a Chinese leader has come here hoping to raise the issue of human rights in this country.

I suspect this has something to do with Blair's trip to China earlier this year. Delighted as he was to visit - standing on the Great Wall, he could be seen from space, always good for the ego - he must have looked around at a nation preparing for the Olympics in 2008 and thought: "Gosh, what a fantastic country. I mean, I know people get locked up and there's the odd abuse of human rights, but when they can knock out bras for 3p a time, you can't fail to be impressed. I mean, like everyone else, I was appalled when I saw that whole business in Tiananmen Square, with the tanks and that, but y'know, when I saw those thousands of people protesting against me in Trafalgar Square, I finally got what the Chinese were trying to do." What is it, he must have wondered, that makes this place so special, a place you can get things done, a place where the government can dynamise the economy and achieve huge rises in productivity? "Of course! The people do what you tell them. They have rice, but they also have responsibilities. No terror, no home-grown Muslim fanatics, no chattering classes: fabulous. Must send Charles Clarke here."

Not for the first time since the war on terror began, I found myself agreeing with John Major, who attacked the government's plans as "totally unacceptable in a liberal society. You don't protect our liberties by withdrawing them. I'm astonished that the government contemplated holding people without charge for that period of time." As in America, so here: fear of attack is the strongest weapon in pushing through authoritarian policies. It is the ally of the neo-cons, as that uber-neoconservative Hermann Goering told his trial at Nuremberg: "Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger; it works the same in any country."

We must not forget that it's this government, and this Home Secretary, who believe that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and that means we must be eternally under the eye of the government. The official line is that this request comes from the police. But once the police are allowed to determine policy, we really are in a different country.

Last weekend, chief constables were calling up Labour backbenchers and writing to the Times (presumably the usual tactic - a call to female MPs from Cherie, threatening them with a bulk delivery of remaindered books if they failed to toe the line - was not persuasive). But are we happy to have our police politicised in this way? They have the powers; all they lack is resources. Still, let's look on the bright side: there are a lot of people in Guantanamo who'd give their eye teeth to get out after 90 days. Assuming they haven't been extracted already by the gentlemen from the Pentagon.

It's become a cliche to say that David Cameron is the Tories' Blair. David Davis even characterises him as such, arguing that the last thing the Conservatives need is to imitate the Labour leader (though I have to say it's not done my career any harm). And after all, where did it get Labour?

It only won them three elections, even if the third was a result of the Tories still not finding an alternative who didn't look as if he wanted to be in Poland by lunchtime. Davis seems set to retread the old ground (lower taxes, etc) which proved so infertile for Hague and Howard. But interestingly, addressing a Tory meeting in Edinburgh, he assured them he had John Major's support (he hasn't) and that he'd told George Osborne to work up the idea of a flat tax (he hadn't). This, combined with an illuminating Newsnight report which showed that Davis's recollection of a number of issues differed markedly from that of his colleagues, suggests that he is a man prepared to make things up as and when he needs to. And what could be more Blairite than that?

By Rory Bremner

Rory Bremner writes for the New Statesman

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