Monday 1 December 2008

Jackie Ashley gets it wrong

The usually insightful Jackie Ashley seems to me to get things completely wrong in her article in today's Guardian in which she takes Jacqui Smith to task for failing to stop the police interrogating Damian Green MP. Here is what Jackie Ashley says:

'[Jacqui Smith's] highest title is not, actually, home secretary. She is first a member of parliament. Her first duty is to the parliamentary democracy that sustains us all, and that means protecting the rights of elected members to do their democratic job.'

OK, so far, so good. But now consider the conclusion that Jackie Ashley goes on to draw:

'Smith should have found out what was being contemplated by the police and then intervened to stop it. Far from being 'Stalinist', that would have been the proportionate, liberal and sensible thing.'

Er, excuse me? If the police think there is evidence that an MP has broken the law, the Home Secretary should intervene to stop the police from investigating? What Jackie Ashley is suggesting is that one member of the political elite use her power to protect another member of the political elite from the equal application of the laws. This may not be 'Stalinist', but its hardly 'liberal'.

The fundamental problem is not that the police were heavy-handed, or that Jacqui Smith failed to stop them acting, but that the laws the police sought to apply are bad, undemocratic laws. The solution is not to stop the police enforcing the law, to the best of their judgment. The solution is to make better laws - laws that enable Parliamentarians to hold the government to account without wading into murky legal waters.

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