As we know from this week's Guardian, ACPO (the Association of Chief Police Officers) has been putting together a database of UK political activists under the banner of monitoring what it defines as 'domestic extremism'.
A couple of days ago I posted on this topic here at Next Left, focusing in particular on the Home Secretary's inadequate response to the revelations. As I explained, his response was equivocal (gist: I don't think the police are doing anything dodgy, but if they are, I'm not responsible). And he tried to defuse the importance of the issue by treating the whole thing in a jokey manner.
The jokeyness was profoundly ill-judged. The vast majority of these 'domestic extremists' are simply people of conscience who are willing to go public and protest about the social evils they perceive around them. I strongly suspect that well over half the members of any Quaker meeting around the country would fit into this category!
To dismiss the anxieties and activism of these fellow citizens with the sort of glib joke that Alan Johnson did is to show contempt for these people and for the politics of conscience they represent - a political tradition that goes back from today's Climate Camp through anti-war, anti-colonial, and anti-slavery movements, suffragism, Chartism, and the Levellers during the English Civil War.
Historically, the Labour party and the wider labour movement have been part of this tradition - or at least, connected to it, if, at times, in an uneasy relationship with it. It ought, then, to be a concern for those of us in the Labour party when a Labour government seems quite happy to let the police treat huge swathes of contemporary protest politics, expressive of this self-same tradition, as quasi-criminal activity. And when a Labour Home Secretary treats protestors with such contempt.
Let us turn, then, to the Labour blogosphere. Here is a medium in which party members can voice their concerns in an immediate, forthright manner. I've had a look at three Labour-inclined sites: LabourList, Labourhome and Compass's website. What do we see?
Now obviously one can't reasonably expect every site to cover every issue. It would actually be quite tedious if they did. However, I am struck by the collective silence of these three Labour sites on the issue of ACPO's database and its civil liberties implications. (If I have missed something, someone will doubtless let me know!)
And I don't think this reaction - or non-reaction - to ACPO's subversion of our liberties (for are they not amongst the real 'domestic extremists'?) is unusual. Just how much comment on the policing issues raised by the G20 protests was there in the wider Labour blogosphere (outside of Next Left)? I can recall very, very little.
This has consequences. The less we hear critical voices on this topic from within the party, then obviously the less pressure there is on the government to alter course. The silence assists the drift towards authoritarianism.
I assume, of course, that others in the party, those who participate in the Labour blogosphere, share my underlying opposition to authoritarianism.
The worrying thought is: perhaps they - perhaps you - don't share this opposition with me.
Perhaps what we are witnessing here, at the end of the New Labour story, is the Labour party's final abandonment of the 'politics of conscience', of the protest tradition, and its full transformation into a party of executive authoritarianism.
That transformation is completed, not when a Labour government helps make the state more authoritarian (for all governments of all parties will sometimes do authoritarian things), but when such action ceases to be a matter of urgent concern and opposition for a significant number of people in the party. This transformation is completed when the wider party culture is such that the response to obvious and alarming authoritarianism is...collective silence.
There is, of course, an easy way to refute this hypothesis...
Postscript: Guy Aitchison at OurKingdom has written to Alex Smith at LabourList to ask why LabourList has not produced any comment on The Guardian's ACPO revelations and the government's response. I am sure that Next Left readers will be keen to know Alex Smith's reply.