28 days… later

12 June 2008

I should admit I have, probably purposely, not followed the debate over 42 days very closely. I think that the phrase ‘civil liverties’ is used too much and its use in this context made me want to keep away from the debate. There’s a fine line when using that phrase which is often ignored (I’m not necessarily saying crossed). I’ve particularly kept out because of the complexities around when such a measure will apply or not and I didn’t believe I understood the issue enough to form an opinion.

However, having heard yesterday that the government won in the House of Commons I was most interested today, not to read opinion pieces or articles (no matter whether I agree with them or not), but to read a speech made by Diane Abbott, for whom I have a good deal of respect. She raises some very valid points.

I came into politics because of my concern about the relationship of the state to communities that are marginalised and suspected. It is easy to stand up for the civil liberties of our friends or of people in our trade union, but it is not easy to stand up for the civil liberties of people who are unpopular, suspected and look suspicious—people the tabloids print a horror story about every day.

However, it is a test of parliament that we are willing to stand up for the civil liberties of the marginalised, the suspect and the unpopular.

I came into politics about those issues, and I believe that if there is any content at all in ministers’ constant speeches about community cohesion we must offer every part of our community not just the appearance but the reality of justice and equality before the law.

She finished her speech talking about the popularity of the 42 day clause and how that affects parliament, saying “But if we as a parliament cannot stand up on this issue, and if people from our different ethnic communities cannot come here and genuinely reflect their fears and concerns, what is parliament for?”. This reminds me of a debate which I recall, but cannot find the speech for, in respect of equalising the age of consent where it was said that it’s not the job or parliament to do what is popular, it’s the job of parliament to do what is right…

So, no matter what I may or may not think about 42 days detention, Diane Abbott is absolutely right – parliament is about doing what’s right, understanding the concerns and issues, not letting a popular argument, which she believes has not been evidentially and robustly justified, to simply pass through.

In less exciting news I am tucked up in bed with a summer cold, which is really no fun at all.

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