How Democracies Perish, British Edition

The horrific story of the latest adventure conducted by the religion of peace in Bombay riveted the public's attention to such an extent that one of the most egregious violations of political freedom in a Western democracy has, at least on this side of the Atlantic, gone almost without comment. I mean the sudden arrest in London last week of of Damian Green, a conservative MP and Shadow Minister for Immigration, who was seized by anti-terrorist personnel from the Metropolitan police, held for questioning for 9 hours, and whose private papers and computer files in his home and office in the House of Commons were confiscated. The Honorable Member's offense? Embarrassing Gordon Brown's government. How did he do this? By revealing in debate on the floor of the House of Commons and in various lapses, failures, and dirty-little-secrets about the government's immigration policy, e.g.,

* the fact that the home secretary knew that the Security Industry Authority had granted licences to 5,000 illegal workers, but decided not to publicise it.

* the fact that an illegal immigrant had been employed as a cleaner in the House of Commons.

* A whips' list of potential Labour rebels in the vote on plans to increase the pre-charge terror detention limit to 42 days.

In other words, Mr. Green was doing exactly what a member of the Opposition should do: shedding light on the government's failures in order to make it more accountable to the public.

The ever percipient Janet Daley, writing in the London Telegraph, got it exactly right: Mr. Green's arrest, and the government's subsequent denial of knowledge of or responsibility for the actions of the police, represents a "grotesque breach of political freedom and constitutional principle."

Anyone who thinks that this incident is being somehow blown out of proportion by opposition politicians and an excitable media had better think again. A senior opposition spokesman has been arrested and detained, had his personal possessions and confidential correspondence examined, and his family home occupied, without being suspected of any criminal offence.

The object of the exercise seems to have been intimidation and the flaunting of power. Short of an outright, totalitarian suspension of democracy, this is about as serious as it gets. Freedom is under threat in ways that we would not have thought conceivable a generation ago. The threat seems to be coming in various forms from a government desperate to save its own credibility and to be so convinced of its moral righteousness that it can justify the most blatant abuses of what we had taken to be the fundamental principles of a free society.