42 days

If reducing liberties through extending pre-charge detention does not help the police, ruins innocen

Gordon Brown's standing as a serious-minded and principled politician was thrown into some doubt by the fluffed opportunism seen in the abolition of the 10 per cent tax rate.

But his attempt to force through a counter-terrorism bill that would allow suspects to be held without charge for forty-two days represents a new and unprecedented nadir in his record.

It is a piece of unprincipled and pointless political symbolism, offensive to the central tenets of liberal democracy.

There are a number of arguments that can be made against the extension of detention without charge. Some of these arguments are addressed to the likely consequences of allowing 42-day detention. The simplest objection is that allowing 42 days detention without charge is simply unnecessary, and would do no good.

Ministers admit that there has not yet been a case where police claim that they needed more than the current 28 days in order to charge a subject. So the move to 42 days may well be completely useless in terms of promoting security.

And what of those who are not charged after over a month in police custody? Innocent people could face the Kafkaesque prospect of having their careers and lives ruined, even though they are never charged with a criminal offence.

As a further consequence, support for the police and the security services would only be undermined if lengthy detention without trial became commonplace. One can look at the experience of internment in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s to show that, as soon as the actions of the powers-that-be demonstrate contempt for due procedures, communities withdraw their support from the police.

With these concerns in mind, it is a curious fact that, in public debate on this issue, one often hears the claim that we have to "strike a balance" between liberty and security. Indeed, the metaphor of "striking a balance" has come to be an unquestioned dogma of much thinking about civil liberties and terrorism.

But more careful examination shows that this metaphor is deeply misleading. If reducing liberties through extending pre-charge detention does not help the police, ruins innocent lives, and alienates minority communities, then there is no corresponding gain in the purported balance of liberty against security. Instead of a balance, we have a loss of both liberty and security. Who would be in favour of that?

But the talk of "striking a balance" is misleading in more ways than just this one. We can deny that gains in one always create losses in the other. But, even in cases where a reduction in civil liberties did promote our security, we can still deny that we should think in terms of how best to balance them against each other.

Instead, we might think that certain liberties - like the freedom from detention without charge - are simply too fundamental to be traded-off against gains in our personal security. This is because personal security may itself only be truly worthwhile as long as these liberties are protected. It may do us no good to be kept safe from harm if it is at the cost of living in a country that is no longer a civilized liberal democracy.

Most importantly, it is a fundamental error to think that, in a democratic society, the central task of government is to keep us safe.
The life of free individuals in a democratic society is inherently risky. Good laws and good policing can reduce some of those risks, but only by a certain degree.

Criminals and terrorists can exploit the openness of a free society in order to cause us harm. But we have always known that this is so: it is simply the price we pay for living the way we live. Knowing that we live under unavoidable risk is no reason to sacrifice our way of life or to give up our fundamental freedoms.

In a discussion of the image of "balancing" liberty and security, the political philosopher Jeremy Waldron has raised a number of other problems with overly simple ways of thinking on these issues. For one, we shouldn't forget that, insofar as we care about our security to live our lives free from interference with our bodily integrity or freedom of movement, we should be concerned with our rights against over-zealous or misdirected policemen, and not only with our security from terrorists.

We should also bear in mind that, even when restrictions on liberty do bring gains in security, not all of those who benefit pay the price.
Even if extending detention without charge did bring gains in overall security, a very high price would be paid by any innocent individuals who found themselves at the sharp end of mistakes by the police. (And mistakes do happen: remember the 250 armed police who invaded the home of two innocent men, Mohammed Abdulkahar and Abul Koyair (shooting Abdulkahar in the process), at Forest Gate in June 2006.)

It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that Brown, as well as other Labour ministers, realize that the extension of detention without trial would be oppressive, illiberal and counter-productive. So why do they pursue this policy? Presumably because, in a haze of bad judgement and wishful thinking, Brown believes that this kind of empty symbolic politics can enhance his reputation for toughness, and play well to middle-England.

It is a cruel irony that doing the unprincipled thing on detention without trial is, contrary to Brown's belief, also very bad politics.

Brown allows the Tories to sound like the voice of civilized reason on this issue, while making his own party sound shabby, insincere and opportunistic. Hopefully there will be enough Labour MPs with sufficient self-respect to block this disgraceful surrender of political principle.

If the extension of detention without charge is defeated, one can only hope that Brown will draw a line under this sorry episode and move on.
He may discover that, as well as being the right thing to do, a return to a more principled politics could also start to lift the air of drift and dishonesty that has come to settle on his government.

If, on the other hand, the Bill passes in its current form, it will be a disastrous day for liberal democracy in this country.

Martin O’Neill is a political philosopher, based at the Centre for Political Theory in the Department of Politics at the University of Manchester. He has previously taught at Cambridge and Harvard, and is writing a book on Corporations and Social Justice.
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The French millennials marching behind Marine Le Pen

A Front National rally attracts former socialists with manicured beards, and a lesbian couple. 

“In 85 days, Marine will be President of the French Republic!” The 150-strong crowd cheered at the sound of the words. On stage, the speaker, the vice-president of the far-right Front National (FN), Florian Philippot, continued: “We will be told that it’s the apocalypse, by the same banks, media, politicians, who were telling the British that Brexit would be an immediate catastrophe.

"Well, they voted, and it’s not! The British are much better off than we are!” The applause grew louder and louder. 

I was in the medieval city of Metz, in a municipal hall near the banks of the Moselle River, a tributary of the Rhine from which the region takes its name. The German border lies 49km east; Luxembourg City is less than an hour’s drive away. This is the "Country of the Three Borders", equidistant from Strasbourg and Frankfurt, and French, German and French again after various wars. Yet for all that local history is deeply rooted in the wider European history, votes for the Front National rank among the highest nationally, and continue to rise at every poll. 

In rural Moselle, “Marine”, as the Front National leader Marine Le Pen is known, has an envoy. In 2014, the well-spoken, elite-educated Philippot, 35, ran for mayor in Forbach, a former miner’s town near the border. He lost to the Socialist candidate but has visited regularly since. Enough for the locals to call him “Florian".

I grew up in a small town, Saint-Avold, halfway between Metz and Forbach. When my grandfather was working in the then-prosperous coal mines, the Moselle region attracted many foreign workers. Many of my fellow schoolmates bore Italian and Polish surnames. But the last mine closed in 2004, and now, some of the immigrants’ grandchildren are voting for the National Front.

Returning, I can't help but wonder: How did my generation, born with the Maastricht treaty, end up turning to the Eurosceptic, hard right FN?

“We’ve seen what the other political parties do – it’s always the same. We must try something else," said Candice Bertrand, 23, She might not be part of the group asking Philippot for selfies, but she had voted FN at every election, and her family agreed. “My mum was a Communist, then voted for [Nicolas] Sarkozy, and now she votes FN. She’s come a long way.”  The way, it seemed, was political distrust.

Minutes earlier, Philippot had pleaded with the audience to talk to their relatives and neighbours. Bertrand had brought her girlfriend, Lola, whom she was trying to convince to vote FN.  Lola wouldn’t give her surname – her strongly left-wing family would “certainly not” like to know she was there. She herself had never voted.

This infuriated Bertrand. “Women have fought for the right to vote!” she declared. Daily chats with Bertrand and her family had warmed up Lola to voting Le Pen in the first round, although not yet in the second. “I’m scared of a major change,” she confided, looking lost. “It’s a bit too extreme.” Both were too young to remember 2002, when a presidential victory for the then-Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, was only a few percentage points away.

Since then, under the leadership of his daughter, Marine, the FN has broken every record. But in this region, the FN’s success isn’t new. In 2002, when liberal France was shocked to see Le Pen reach the second round of the presidential election, the FN was already sailing in Moselle. Le Pen grabbed 23.7 per cent of the Moselle vote in the first round and 21.9 per cent in the second, compared to 16.9 per cent and 17.8 per cent nationally. 

The far-right vote in Moselle remained higher than the national average before skyrocketing in 2012. By then, the younger, softer-looking Marine had taken over the party. In that year, the FN won an astonishing 24.7 per cent of the Moselle vote, and 17.8 per cent nationwide.

For some people of my generation, the FN has already provided opportunities. With his manicured beard and chic suit, Emilien Noé still looks like the Young Socialist he was between 16 and 18 years old. But looks can be deceiving. “I have been disgusted by the internal politics at the Socialist Party, the lack of respect for the low-ranked campaigners," he told me. So instead, he stood as the FN’s youngest national candidate to become mayor in his village, Gosselming, in 2014. “I entered directly into action," he said. (He lost). Now, at just 21, Noé is the FN’s youth coordinator for Eastern France.

Metz, Creative Commons licence credit Morgaine

Next to him stood Kevin Pfeiffer, 27. He told me he used to believe in the Socialist ideal, too - in 2007, as a 17-year-old, he backed Ségolène Royal against Sarkozy. But he is now a FN local councillor and acts as the party's general co-ordinator in the region. Both Noé and Pfeiffer radiated a quiet self-confidence, the sort that such swift rises induces. They shared a deep respect for the young-achiever-in-chief: Philippot. “We’re young and we know we can have perspectives in this party without being a graduate of l’ENA,” said another activist, Olivier Musci, 24. (The elite school Ecole Nationale d’Administration, or ENA, is considered something of a mandatory finishing school for politicians. It counts Francois Hollande and Jacques Chirac among its alumni. Ironically, Philippot is one, too.)

“Florian” likes to say that the FN scores the highest among the young. “Today’s youth have not grown up in a left-right divide”, he told me when I asked why. “The big topics, for them, were Maastricht, 9/11, the Chinese competition, and now Brexit. They have grown up in a political world structured around two poles: globalism versus patriotism.” Notably, half his speech was dedicated to ridiculing the FN's most probably rival, the maverick centrist Emmanuel Macron. “It is a time of the nations. Macron is the opposite of that," Philippot declared. 

At the rally, the blue, red and white flame, the FN’s historic logo, was nowhere to be seen. Even the words “Front National” had deserted the posters, which were instead plastered with “in the name of the people” slogans beneath Marine’s name and large smile. But everyone wears a blue rose at the buttonhole. “It’s the synthesis between the left’s rose and the right’s blue colour”, Pfeiffer said. “The symbol of the impossible becoming possible.” So, neither left nor right? I ask, echoing Macron’s campaign appeal. “Or both left and right”, Pfeiffer answered with a grin.

This nationwide rebranding follows years of efforts to polish the party’s jackass image, forged by decades of xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic declarations by Le Pen Sr. His daughter evicted him from the party in 2015.

Still, Le Pen’s main pledges revolve around the same issue her father obsessed over - immigration. The resources spent on "dealing with migrants" will, Le Pen promises, be redirected to address the concerns of "the French people". Unemployment, which has been hovering at 10 per cent for years, is very much one of them. Moselle's damaged job market is a booster for the FN - between 10 and 12 per cent of young people are unemployed.

Yet the two phenomena cannot always rationally be linked. The female FN supporters I met candidly admitted they drove from France to Luxembourg every day for work and, like many locals, often went shopping in Germany. Yet they hoped to see the candidate of “Frexit” enter the Elysee palace in May. “We've never had problems to work in Luxembourg. Why would that change?” asked Bertrand. (Le Pen's “144 campaign pledges” promise frontier workers “special measures” to cross the border once out of the Schengen area, which sounds very much like the concept of the Schengen area itself.)

Grégoire Laloux, 21, studied history at the University of Metz. He didn't believe in the European Union. “Countries have their own interests. There are people, but no European people,” he said. “Marine is different because she defends patriotism, sovereignty, French greatness and French history.” He compared Le Pen to Richelieu, the cardinal who made Louis XIV's absolute monarchy possible:  “She, too, wants to build a modern state.”

French populists are quick to link the country's current problems to immigration, and these FN supporters were no exception. “With 7m poor and unemployed, we can't accept all the world's misery,” Olivier Musci, 24, a grandchild of Polish and Italian immigrants, told me. “Those we welcome must serve the country and be proud to be here.”

Lola echoed this call for more assimilation. “At our shopping centre, everyone speaks Arabic now," she said. "People have spat on us, thrown pebbles at us because we're lesbians. But I'm in my country and I have the right to do what I want.” When I asked if the people who attacked them were migrants, she was not so sure. “Let's say, they weren't white.”

Trump promised to “Make America Great Again”. To where would Le Pen's France return? Would it be sovereign again? White again? French again? Ruled by absolutism again? She has blurred enough lines to seduce voters her father never could – the young, the gay, the left-wingers. At the end of his speech, under the rebranded banners, Philippot invited the audience to sing La Marseillaise with him. And in one voice they did: “To arms citizens! Form your battalions! March, march, let impure blood, water our furrows...” The song is the same as the one I knew growing up. But it seemed to me, this time, a more sinister tune.