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Fortress Britain

15 November, 2007

Or so the Telegraph headline has it today. I am aware that I should now include a hyperlink to the article, but I haven’t read the instructions on how to do that yet, and I am rushing to go out – another time. Of course, I could also ask one of my techno gurus: husband; brother; brother-in-law (how depressing that they are all male) to show me how.

Back to the fortress. I am aware that the security threats we face today make some extra security measures necessary, and I suppose it is only sensible to build structures in future that will absorb the blast from IEDs, but I can’t deny that I was conscious of a feeling of depression yesterday that it had come to this in Britain. Bad news on the economy and more disruption for travellers.

It is more than that, however: it is the open acknowledgement that life has changed, and not for the better. We need to balance individual liberty against protecting our citizens, no one can doubt that, but are we going too far? I have been shouting at the television for years, calling for telephone intercept evidence to be acceptable in court: how much better to have a few people targeted than all of us inconvenienced, but I share Admiral Lord West’s stated reservations on the Today programme about the need for an extension to the 28 days’ detention without charge.

He called himself ‘a simple sailor’, but you don’t get to be First Sea Lord if you’re simple, believe me. No, what he said in the morning was what he felt. How sad then, that he allowed himself to be pressured into retraction later.

I know that the Police are arguing for an extension, but a liberal democracy is wise not to be ruled by its police force: they are there to serve communities, not decide policy.

And then there is the question of who is to blame for the current situation.

 Messrs Blair and Brown, and the rest of New Labour, that’s who. It was their craven unwillingness in the early days of their government to take on the radicals who were preaching hate outside (and inside) our mosques that allowed such pernicious seeds to be sown here in the first place. My Muslim friends have always maintained that the moderate majority would have been only too pleased to see these people shown the door, but New Labour wouldn’t risk it.

Add to that the unwisdom of the invasion of Iraq and you have the situation we face today. I am not arguing that Iraq gave rise to al-Qaeda: we all know that al-Qaeda was around long before 2003, but its targets were American – either directly or abroad, but its focus was on the US.

In choosing precipitate action against Saddam, instead of taking the time necessary to build coalitions and bring the UN on board (which would have happened eventually, but might have needed a year of pressure), we moved the crosshairs squarely on to us.

We have allowed a loose grouping of dogmatic murderers to claim our action in the Middle East as a war against Islam, and recruit accordingly.

(I am aware that the Tories voted for the invasion, but I didn’t agree with that decision at the time, and still don’t: I don’t disapprove of the desire to get rid of Saddam Hussein, just how did so.)

John Reid always argued that al-Qaeda’s enemy was the West, not just the US and UK, but, if that is the case, why aren’t there these security measures in Oslo, or Stockholm, or even Paris? Norway, as Alex Salmond is so fond of telling us, is a small, oil-rich nation, so why is it not the target of international terrorism?

Why us? That is the question that no one in the government is truly happy to answer.

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