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A week of intolerance

Another bad week for civil liberties and human rights in Britain, courtesy of the New Labour government and their supporters around the country. A mixture of anti-working class, anti-Islamic and plain anti-democratic measures all add to the authoritarian and intolerant atmosphere that is the hallmark of this grim government.

Early in the week, new housing minister Caroline Flint launched a reactionary attack on unemployed council tenants. She threatened them with eviction unless they could prove they had made serious attempts to take up jobs. Her plan would create thousands of homeless families in areas where there are few or, at best a handful of low-paid, jobs. Flint’s is a gratuitous attempt to stigmatise workers living on estates where, as a result of government policies, rents are beyond most people’s incomes and so they forced to depend on housing benefit.

One attempt to woo Daily Mail readers away from the Tories was followed later in the week by arbitrary decisions that were intended to anger and provoke the Muslim community. After being goaded by Tory leader David Cameron, Gordon Brown's government refused a visa that would have allowed elderly Islamic preacher, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, to come to the Britain for medical treatment. Al-Qaradawi has been coming to Britain for over 30 years and is now being kept out on the spurious grounds that he defends terrorism in his speeches. His views on a number of issues like women’s and gay rights are indeed pretty grim but the fact remains that they are just that - views and opinions. The right to hold and espouse a point of view clearly only applies if you agree with the government. It’s a novel take on freedom of speech.

Then home secretary Jacqui Smith – who is promoting detention without trial for 42 days in the latest anti-terror bill – signed an order which would send preacher Abu Hamza to the US to face a possible life sentence on terrorism charges that his lawyer says are the result of information provided under torture. Hamza is serving a seven-year sentence in Britain for inciting hatred, but the government wants him sent to the US before his jail term is completed. His lawyer Muddassar Arani said that one person who implicated the preacher had been tortured in a US-run secret prison, and another alleged witness had been tortured in Guantánamo Bay. Before we continue this sorry tale, we shouldn’t forget to mention the government’s decision this week to allow “evidence” gathered through phone tapping to be used in court, a decision that the organisation Liberty, amazingly, supports.

So we come to Salford, the Labour-controlled council near Manchester. Its contibution to the week came with news that children who want to stage a protest march against a closure threat to their school will have to pay £2,500 to cover the cost of "traffic management”. The council’s decision has so angered both staff and pupils at St George's High School that they are considering reporting Salford to the European Court of Human Rights. They say they are being denied a fundamental right to protest. Lizzie Finch, 16, one of four Year 11 girls who are coordinating the protest, said: "It's appalling and outrageous. How dare they try to take away our rights? There is no way we are going to pay this charge because it's completely out of order." Head teacher Philip Harte who supports the protest added: "The level of their hypocricy is also quite breathtaking. As a school we have instilled the principles of fairness and democracy, of doing things through the proper channels, and yet this is the way the children's own council behaves. It's a total disgrace and I'm absolutely convinced it is an act of vindictiveness towards the school." Welcome to Brown's Britain.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor
8 February 2008

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