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A letter to Nick Clegg

4 April, 2012

The Hon Nick Clegg MP

House of Commons

London WC1

Dear Mr Clegg

I was encouraged to hear on Today that the Liberal contingent in the Coalition has reacted with alarm to the Orwellian proposal to extend electronic surveillance to social media. Mr Clark justified the move with the bland assurance that it would merely be to regularise the existing situation regarding communications intercepts; to which he claimed (falsely) no-one objects, in the light of “changing technology”. Mr Clark is doubtless a civilised and large-minded man, but either extraordinarily naïve or in an impossible position. He knows full well that such powers are never reversed; only ever amplified. It is also clear that he is at sea with “changing technology”.

Anyone in Government who imagines that people in Britain are happy with the situation would do well to use their surveillance superpowers to read the comment threads today. There is mounting unease that, on the “boiled frog” principle, one by one our hard-won liberties as citizens are being subordinated to the needs of the State. Each step on the road to totalitarianism is presented by Government and the media in isolation as being justified, measured and beneficial: taken together, however, we are entering the most alarming period in our modern history.

The extension of State powers imposed by the extreme “counter-terrorism” measures of  the past decade, combined with surveillance making every detail of our lives transparent not merely to the police but to functionaries wielding petty authority at every level; the unaccountable actions of the security apparatus; stop and search; arrest and detention without charge; closed-court trials; extraordinary rendition; increasingly loose extradition treaties; deployment of face- and numberplate-recognition and drone technologies; confiscations of untransmitted news material; cross-referencing of databases; nasty appeals to citizens to inform  on their neighbours; divisive policies targeting “unacceptable” sections of the community; the irritating micro-management of departments by ministers and special advisers, sidelining Parliament; the constant rain of headline-grabbing “policy initiatives” as a substitute for joined-up government – the influence of private lobbies  these incremental developments are reducing Britain to the condition of East Germany in the 1950s.

To claim that “the innocent have nothing to fear” is to reiterate the patronising lie told by every totalitarian regime in history. No-one is “innocent” of crimes that have yet to be defined by those in power. We neither need nor want the State’s fatherly protection against invisible enemies whom it has raised against us, the bogeymen with which it tries to frighten us into accepting control of every aspect of our lives and, now, our thought; the cheap appeals to nationalist sentiment. The routine monitoring of everyday discourse for evidence of  – what, unacceptable tendencies? Deviancy from the norm? Dangerous thinking? is historically a cost no civilised society should be forced to bear. These new controls reveal at best a dangerous paranoia among a governing class terrified of the future it has created.

I hope therefore that you will feel emboldened to pass on my condolences to Mr Clark. I am sure he is a nice, civilised Gauleiter at heart, and the CIA is being beastly to him, but please tell him I said to get his boot off our face. He will recognise the allusion.

With profound unease,


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