LM Comment
  12:32 AM BST
Comment Current LM Web review Mailing
lists Discuss Chat Events Search Archives Subject index Links Merchandise Overview FAQ Feedback Toolbar
14 May 1998

New Labour, Many New Dangers

Jennie Bristow sees New Labour's new laws as a prime example of anti-social behaviour

There is now no doubt as to what New Labour stands for. As spelt out in the Queen's Speech, more regulation and less freedom is the order of the next five years.

LM's critique of New Labour's repressive policies is developed in our manifesto, The Point Is To Change It. Three points barely mentioned in the speech itself are the new dangers to watch out for.

'We blame the children'

Kids who are not quite so squeaky clean as Tony's children: Euan, Nicky and Kathryn Blair are obviously a big problem for New Labour. Community work will be doled out to young offenders from the age of 10, meaning that children will have to do some work either for their victim or for the community. And if they refuse to do as they are told (as children of 10 are wont to do), they will have an 'Action Plan Order' slapped on them: a regime with much stricter supervision and punishment.

The defence that 'kids will be kids' will no longer apply under New Labour. With the abolition of the doli incapax legal presumption that children under 14 do not know right from wrong, a 10 year old tearaway will be held as responsible for his actions as an adult criminal.

'If you can't say something nice, don't say it at all'

Under the guise of bringing in measures to counter racism, New Labour will act to curb freedom of speech. In January, Labour MP Mike Gapes succeeded in bringing in a bill to make Holocaust denial a crime. Straw's new crime of 'racial harassment' introduces much broader restrictions on what can and cannot be said.

Straw's law against 'racial harassment' is to be based on a report produced by the Home Affairs Select Committee, which stated that 'racial attacks and harassment, and the spread of literature which preaches racial hatred, are increasing and must be stopped'. While many may sympathise with this view, attempts to regulate such a grey area as 'racial harassment', which is not defined as any words in particular, sets a dangerous precedent for attacking our right to free speech.

In a climate where fundamentalist Muslims are accused of incitement to racial hatred and white people are as likely to sue black people for 'racial discrimination' as blacks are to sue whites, what can constitute racial harassment in the eyes of the law is difficult to define. The only consequence of this can be to give more power to the judiciary to determine the boundaries of 'acceptable speech'. When freedom of speech becomes conditional on what is said, this law will impact on a far broader constituency of people than just those who perpetrate racial hatred.

An Englishman's home is Jack Straw's castle

New Labour's move to phase in the European Convention on Human Rights will begin with its adoption of a measure allowing individuals to contest 'the misuse of power by the state'. Rather than having to go to Strasbourg to complain about the infringement of personal privacy and human rights, individuals will be able to seek redress within British courts.

Sounds innocuous enough. But when New Labour talks about protecting privacy, what is really being said?

The assumption behind making it easier for individuals to contest invasions of their privacy is that privacy - freedom from state intrusion into our lives - is something we can no longer take for granted. According to Article 8 of the European Convention, we can expect to be left alone only if intervention is not deemed necessary 'for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others'. What does this mean when loud music is a crime, when parents are seen as incapable of bringing up their children in the 'right way', and exercising one's right to free speech is deemed to infringe the rights of others not to be offended?

The incorporation of this measure will do nothing to protect our privacy. It will only legitimise even more interference into our lives. What we need is real privacy - not an intrusive privacy bill.

Welcome to New Britain. It's a free country ... provided you behave yourself.

Join a discussion on this commentary

Subscribe to LM




Mail: webmaster@mail.informinc.co.uk