Luke reckons I have double standards on the basis that I wouldn't have criticised the Thatcher government over the arrest of Sarah Tisdall or Clive Ponting in the mid 1980s. Sunder reckons I am inconsistent because in my post last night I said it was dangerous to comment on breaking news stories without knowing the full facts and then proceeded to do just that. Well, if that's the worst he can do...
But let me engage with Luke's argument, for it is one worth having. He says...
Iain Dale is already getting a bit self-righteous about Damian Green being arrested over alleged Home Office leaks. I wonder what position Iain took on civil servant Sarah Tisdall, jailed for 4 months for leaking documents, or civil servant Clive Ponting, charged but acquitted of a similar offence? Of course it was his hero Margaret Thatcher who ordered their prosecution, so I'm sure he thought it was justified, and didn't huff and puff like he is now.
Labour commenters on previous threads have also adopted a similar argument, and even questioned what I would be saying if Margaret Thatcher or John Major had ordered the arrest of an Opposition politician in the 1980s or 1990s. That point falls flat on its face, because they didn't.
Anyway, back to Mr Akehurst. This is what I posted in his blog comments in response...
Luke, You are quite right, I didn't comment on those two cases. I didn't have a blog at the time. And I suspect you are also right, that if I had, I might not have been so vociferous in defence of civil liberties. It was a very different age. That's no excuse, just an assessment of my thoughts at the time. I suspect at that time I would have had more trust in the state to do the right thing. I was probably in favour of ID cards too. But I have seen the light.
The thing that most concerns me is the deployment of counter terrorism police and the government's willingness to use counter terror legislation in a way they promised they never would. As I said in my original post, it is too early to make a full analysis, but surely you, like me, must be concerned at the way this has been done.
But not a bit of it. Luke, even now, hasn't expressed a scintilla of concern. But let me turn his question back on himself. Imagine if a Conservative government had been in power, and a Labour Opposition spokesman had done what Damian Green had done and was then arrested for it. Does anyone seriously believe that Luke Akehurst, Sunder Katwala and every other Labour blogger wouldn't be protesting on their blogs about it? Of course they would. I would also like to think that if a Conservative government charged a whistleblower that I too would protest about it.
One should also bear in mind that neither Tisdall or Ponting were Parliamentarians. Ponting leaked information to Tam Dalyell. No one even considered arresting him.
John Major had every opportunity to take action against Robin Cook and Gordon Brown in the 1990s and all those in the civil service of leaked to them on an almost weekly basis. The fact is that neither he, nor the Police would have done so or even thought about it.
I frankly have no idea whether Jacqui Smith knew about the arrests. Ken Clarke and Michael Howard find it inconceivable that she didn't. I do too. Surely to goodness it's something her Permanent Secretary would have at least informed her of, even if she wasn't actually consulted. I suppose the question is this: if she was informed prior to it happeneding, would she, or should she have issued an order preventing the arrest from happening? I would submit that if either Clarke or Howard had been Home Secretary they would have done just that.
As someone said in the comments, if she knew, it's a sign we live in an authoritarian state. If she didn't it's a further sign that we're moving towards a Police state.