Saturday, 12 June 2010

Mascot Watch (7) - The 'Iain Dale Gasped' Edition

You'll have noticed that this blog is very quick to laud our esteemed mascot, Philip Davies, when the pearls of freedom-loving wisdom cascade around his public appearances, so as promised, it's only consistent to also report on those - thankfully few - occasions when his views contrast with conventional libertarian thought.

Thursday night at the IEA was one of those times.

Tasked with debating "BIG GOVERNMENT IS WATCHING YOU - The surveillance society and individual freedom", the make-up of the panel suggested that the evening would be a one-sided affair. Davies, however, had other ideas and, to head-shaking and a collective sharp intake of breath from a surprised audience, launched into a passionate defence of four tools of surveillance - CCTV, automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), DNA capture, and body scanners.

Davies argued that when talking of freedom and liberty, many forget that these measures enhance freedom rather than restrict it.

He clutched a ream of printed newspaper reports of violent crimes which were solved due to the availability of CCTV, and contended that the public is offered more freedom from murder, rape and mugging precisely because of the prevalence of cameras. On ANPR, he referred to the murder of Sharon Beshenivsky in his constituency, pointing out that her killers were apprehended while fleeing to London, thanks to ANPR.

He defended DNA capture with reference to the many historical crimes which have now been solved since police began routinely swabbing for DNA. He even professed annoyance that, as a law-abiding citizen, he isn't able to volunteer his own DNA! And on the subject of body scanners, Davies was adamant that the terrible consequences of a potential bomber slipping through security and boarding a plane should trump any embarrassment or privacy issues with such equipment.

As you can imagine, after such a polemic, there were more than a few - Chairman Iain Dale included - whose gobs were well and truly smacked, even if they were generous enough to offer warm applause.

Now, I suppose it's possible that he was assuming an equal and opposite position simply to provide balance to the debate, but his tone didn't support that idea, so one must reasonably surmise that these were, indeed, his sincere beliefs.

And, if taken in isolation, the examples provided by Davies in support of his views are very persuasive. In fact, in a Britain governed by an ideal state, we could accept such an argument without question. However, we are faced with a state which is far from perfect, as Davies himself recognises in many other areas.

The problem, of course, is the inevitable mission creep which always accompanies surveillance measures, and just about every other 'innovative solution' promoted by our government, come to that.

CCTV may very well be useful for the prosecution of murderers, but we know from experience that public officials can't help themselves - before long they're using them to chastise us for minor transgressions. Davies highlighted criminals apprehended by means of ANPR, but their principle use is for harrassing motorists. DNA retention may be useful for solving crime, but the accompanying breakdown of trust between the public and authorities when our presumed innocence is withdrawn is arguably more damaging to society. And while body scanners are good for deterring terrorists, and are relatively new with only fairly superficial abuses so far, you just know that government officials won't hesitate to employ them against the public for trivialities if they feel like it.

It's a matter of trust, and we're all out of it when it comes to our relationship with the state.

They have been stamping on our faces for so long - their abuse of RIPA is an egregious example - that it will be many years before we are able to take their reassurances at face value. If a teen son continually promises to treat your car with respect but always ends up driving it through your flower beds, after a while you stop letting him have the keys no matter how passionate his plea for your trust. Likewise, the state have only themselves to blame for our exasperation and lack of faith in their treatment of us.

Still, Davies's contribution - and Alex Deane's blistering rebuttal - made for a crackling atmosphere and a very entertaining debate. Let's hope the next in the Voices of Freedom series, on Tuesday evening, is as thought-provoking.

If you wish to attend, RSVP or telephone 01223 370156


Anonymous said...

Did they mentuon wether England was a better and safer place now as compared with England before all these innovations?
Are they not introduced to diminish the effect of other 'reforms' such as immigration and diversity.Etc.

Roger Thornhill said...

Philip Davies forgets the basic principle of Law - to defend people from the State and others, NOT to catch criminals.

Catching criminals and solving crime is a secondary activity to support the primary.