Parliament to Blair: Clear Off!

Civil liberties survive an assault in Great Britain—for now

Chamber potshots: The House of Lords, site of a proper drubbing of Tony Blair

Blimey! If we Yanks only had some bleedin' news from overseas on our own telly, we'd be chuffed to bits! The House of Lords has convincingly struck down Tony Blair's frightening attempted assault on civil liberties. Well, so far, at least.

I wrote about this creepy attempt yesterday. And for now, the move has failed.

It might as well not have happened, judging by the U.S. media. Only the A.P. and Bloomberg seem to have carried full-length stories so far, among the snooty Eastern media, according to my cursory glance at the Web.

Good for you, Bloomberg (not you, Mayor Bloomberg, your company). The business news service's story noted:

    The Lords voted 249-119 yesterday to give judges, rather than government officials, power to hold someone under house arrest, limit travel and ban mobile phone or Internet use.

Well, thank God. Our own potty POTUS is trying to give his flunky attorney general Alberto Gonzales, instead of our courts, the same kind of power. Bloomberg's story continues:

    The powers Blair and his Home Secretary Charles Clarke asked for in the bill spurred dissent in both houses of Parliament, including from the ruling Labour Party. Last week, the Commons passed the bill, with Blair's majority cut on one vote to 14 from 161 after lawmakers in his Labour Party voted against him or abstained.

Once again, our Congress pales by comparison. Unfortunately, so does the New York Times. Alan Cowell, the veteran Timesman in London, has written a ton of great stories in his long career. (I particularly remember his South Africa stuff from years ago.) But the editors in New York gave him one paragraph in this morning's World Briefing column:

    BRITAIN: LORDS REJECT ANTI-TERROR PLAN The House of Lords rejected legislation to allow the home secretary to order restrictions on suspected terrorists, including house arrest. The Lords voted 249 to 119 in favor of an amended law requiring that any so-called control orders be issued by a judge. The House of Commons may debate the law again tomorrow, less than a week before existing anti-terrorism legislation expires. Alan Cowell (NYT)

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Treating this like a friggin' short from Long Beach, Long Island, about a cat up a tree? I don't mean to be so shirty, but . . .

The Times also ran an Associated Press web story under the headline "British Lawmakers Amend Anti-Terrorism Law."

"Amend"? Well, at least it's a workmanlike story, saying:

    Prime Minister Tony Blair's plans for a new anti-terrorism law suffered a major setback Monday, as Parliament's upper chamber insisted that only judges should have the power to impose sweeping controls on terrorist suspects.

My question for the U.S. media is this: Why is this development not worth mentioning on this side of the Atlantic? I mean, the Bush regime is trying to do the same kind of thing here, as we've written about time after time. Fuck Martha Stewart and Michael Jackson—the stories about them, I should say. Can we at least have a little coverage of Blair's War of Terror so we can get a hint of what the Bush regime has in mind for us?

The peers' action was a stinging rebuke to Blair, similar to the one I received this morning from a Canadian reader for confusing Great Britain's House of Lords with its Law Lords (its Supreme Court). Duncan MacKenzie wrote to say:

    Not a big fan of the House of Lords or Blair's Britain, and as you say, things are pretty bad when the British have to rely on them for their civil liberties, but:

    Your description of who they are and what they do is just terrible. You have Google on the East Coast, right? There are the law lords: lawyers, who as you say are something like your Supreme Court, but (probably) less institutionally robust. These lawyers—not aristocrats—had already shot down the government's plans. Then there is the rest of the Lords, something like your Senate, but almost all appointed (2/3s by the Government of the day, 1/3 by the Opposition). There are very few hereditary lords—aristocrats—left. Maybe these last few are on their way out? Don't know. You should, though.

Too right, Duncan. I bodged it. MacKenzie continued:

    OK, it's lovely that there are Yankees out there who aren't creepy planet-ruling, control-freak social conservatives. Thank God. But I'm a geologist, for chrissakes, not a journalist. Even I have some idea about this. The point is, if even lefty Americans don't have the respect, or feel they need to take five minutes to figure out furrners' institutions, rather than peddle irrelevant, outdated cartoons about other countries, well, that sucks, doesn't it?

Thanks for writing, Duncan, and I agree. It's not the first time I've made an error, and it won't be the last. My only excuse is the lame one of a lack of a time. But every day brings another astonishing development to write about—like the nomination of John Bolton to be U.N. ambassador.

I still don't understand how things are organized over in Great Britain. I mean, I understand the phrase "Bob's your uncle" and all that—in Oklahoma, my home state, the same Bob, however, could also be your cousin and brother and grandfather at the same time.

As to the House of Lords, I consulted the Parliament site, which says:

    The House of Lords considers legislation, debates issues of importance and provides a forum for government ministers to be questioned. The Committees of the House consider a wide range of issues and produce reports on them. The House of Lords also includes the Law Lords which is the highest court in the United Kingdom.

    The House of Lords is the final court of appeal on points of law for the whole of the United Kingdom in civil cases; and for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in criminal cases. This work is carried out by the Law Lords.

Anyway, I wrote Duncan back to thank him and apologize, and he replied with some interesting points. Here's what he wrote back:

    Thank you for a decent response to an intemperate note.

    I have rebuked you for not the taking the time to figure out what foreign institutions are really like. I rebuke myself for rudeness. "Furrners" was unnecessary.

Well, again I have to thank Duncan for being so kind. He had no reason to apologize—sometimes it's necessary to be intemperate. What I found intriguing was the rest of his note:

    Hmm, why so intemperate? Britain can take care of itself. Possibly because it seems wrongheaded for Americans to write and think as if America is all that is real. The rest of the world? Somewhere to travel through, with a lazy glance from the heights of American-ness (if you're a Democrat), or not even (if you're a Republican). No doubt Britons of 100 years ago were like that, or worse. Sounds as if you understand this, & I don't need to say it.

No, thanks for saying it. We need to keep hearing about the rest of the world, especially while the Bush regime continues to fuck with it.

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