As the House of Commons prepares for its vote on the extension of how long terrorist suspects can be held without charge it is encouraging to see some MPs in moral anguish about which way to vote. Liberty and freedom are ill served by MPs who blithely support the government regardless of concience or regard to the bigger picture of freedom and rights.
When we give power to governments through the ballot box, the first duty of the elected government is to protect the people from abuse of the power which they have been given. It is often portrayed that the government’s first duty is to protect the people from external threat, but history suggests that the biggest threat to the individual comes not from a foreign power but from their own government and its agents abusing their power. We are too quick to forget the Matrix Churchill affair where it was clear that the Government was more concerned about its public face than the freedom and rights of the individual. The Scott report revealed that the government of the day was prepared to sacrifice the freedom of the company directors by putting them on trial, rather than lose face (see The Scott Report).
We have already seen the anti-terror laws used in ways they were not intended, e.g. to prosecute individuals such as Milan and Maya for expressing their freedom of speech. More and more laws, give more and more opportunities for agents of the government to abuse the power they have been given.
If freedom is a God-given aspect of being human and a symptom in each of us having a God-given dignity, then we need to resist every attempt to interfere with that freedom, unless we are convinced that the gift of freedom has been abused. We need to set a high standard for removing or restricting the freedom of others, for we are each the focus of God’s loving attention. There has to be a balance between this belief and the safety of the community – the real question for MPs tonight asks how far we are prepared to live within that tension.