Earlier this week on the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the Prime Minister popped up to tell the British public that our civil liberties were safe in the hands of the Government and that the humbling of the Plantagenet monarch King John at Runnymede was the start of a benevolent and subservient state.
He seemed to have forgotten that this document, like the concessions made at the time of the Peasants Revolt and the Provisions of Oxford, were not some altruistic change moved by a series of enlightened rulers, but were responses to uprisings against overzealous magnates.
Each time, the government in the guise of the King had to be dragged kicking and screaming to negotiations by what passed as civil society in medieval England – the barons, nobles and yeomen.
And each time our rulers did their level best to unpick the hard fought reforms by reasserting royal supremacy almost as soon as the concessions had been made.
History warns us that today will be no different.
The State loves nothing better than to grab power. It’s simply in its DNA. Indeed, in the last Parliament alone there were plans to introduce a snooper’s charter and astonishingly to criminalise annoying and nuisance behaviour.
Now the Government wants to introduce the rather sensible sounding Extremism Disruption Orders. I mean who could possibly object to the State taking action to disrupt the activities of those advocating violence and who want to see the end of our country and traditions.
Except that the rhetoric does not match these proposals and what is being proposed is far more sinister and dangerous.
The problems with EDOs are twofold, the nebulous wording and low evidentiary thresholds. These create the perfect conditions for an unprecedented assault on our hard won civil liberties and in particular free speech.
For those thinking this is fanciful, a recently uncovered letter from Chancellor George Osborne to a constituent makes clear the scale of the Government’s power grab. He confirms that the Home Office’s new counter-extremism strategy seeks to go “beyond terrorism” and “eliminate extremism in all its forms”.
Worryingly he said that EDOs would be triggered by “harmful activities of extremist individuals who spread hate but do not break laws”. But he fails to define what makes an individual an ‘extremist’, or what constitutes ‘spreading hate’.
He concludes by saying “for the Court to impose restrictions upon an individual, it would have to be persuaded that the individual was participating in activities that spread, incite, promote or justify hatred against a person or group of persons on the grounds of that person’s or group of persons’ disability, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and/or transgender identity.”
“The Order will also be used to tackle those venues and facilitators that help extremists to continue their activities as it will be possible to use an EDO to restrict an individual’s ability to host extremists.”
This failure to tightly define what constitutes extremism will open the door to all manner of bizarre and strange orders being enforced especially as the court only has to be convinced that on the “balance of probabilities” the person or organisation is guilty.
This might not mean a lot to the man on the street, but this opens the door to the publishers and sellers of the Charlie Hebdo magazine being targeted for publishing and distributing ‘inflammatory’ cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, therefore spreading hate. While a Christian cleric preaching the end of days could also fall foul of the new law for merely quoting the bible.
So while everyone applauds the principle of tackling violent extremism, it is clear that the Government sees EDOs as going way beyond this. They are creating a new stick to beat those with traditional views, perhaps even some of the writers on this blog, or politicians like Nigel Farage, David Davis or Liam Fox – basically anyone who doesn’t buy into the West London liberal elite’s view of the world.
More importantly like much of the previous legislative tinkering it will not tackle violent extremism, but will damage our ancient civil liberties and so the 800 year battle which stretches back to Magna Carta continues.