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The most dangerous phrase

Before blogging saved me (and condemned my readers) I was a terrible bore. If I encountered a fellow-Brit at a social event, I would hold forth at impassioned length about New Labour and its apparent desire to march us all to New Jerusalem through an arch emblazoned "Arbeit macht frei" (or in Gordon Brown's version, "Steuer macht frei").

On one such evening, one of those toff Scots who would never pass muster in a Glasgow pub said - on the subject of ID cards - the immortal words "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear"

I have heard that phrase, with a sinking heart, dozens of times since then. It is routinely used to justify ever-increasing surveillance. Britons are now monitored on an incredible scale. Yet most are so relaxed about it that I doubt they would demur if the government chose to insert subcutaneous CCTV cameras and microphones at birth, while tattooing an ID number onto the new citizen's forehead.

Britons have enjoyed liberty so long that they seem unable to appreciate how hard-won it was and how easy it is to lose. To call a man a "suspect" is enough, in the minds of our addled compatriates to justify treating him as guilty.

Sometimes a cliche is a cliche because it's true. Freedom is indivisible. We cannot deprive "bad people" of their everyday freedoms without similarly depriving ourselves. The price of our own freedom of action is that we allow others the same in the knowledge they may use it to do harm. Only when harm has been done (or where there is solid proof that it would otherwise happen) have we the right to ask independent courts to restrict a wrong-doer's liberty.

Thinking bad thoughts, saying bad things, even plotting evil plots should not be restricted, if we don't want to argue constantly for the goodness, or at least harmlessness of our own thoughts, words and deeds. I would argue that the recent conviction of Dhiren Barot, and his sentencing to 40 years in prison was quite wrong. He appears to have been little more than a sick fantasist, who had made no credible preparations, taken no serious steps and lacked any sufficient resources to put his fantasies into effect. He was no more dangerous than Stephen King and we have shown ourselves to be a nation of gutless milksops by trembling in fear of his pathetic fantasies (Barot's, not King's - although thinking about it....)

If we want to be free, we cannot always be safe. Even if we would prefer always to be safe, we must fear the forces we would have to create to provide that safety. We could never be safe from them.

Dear reader, is there truly nothing you have done in the past 10 years that you would not want your parents, your spouse, your boss or your children to see? A very surprising percentage of the supposedly staid British public claim to have had sex while driving a car. Are you one of them? Would you and your partner in this feat wish it to have a tape of it played to your mothers?

Can you really claim that, despite new criminal offences being created at an average rate of one per day, you have committed none of them - however minor? I doubt if it is even possible now to live in Britain for 24 hours without committing a crime, unless comatose.

If there is anything; anything at all, then you are a potential victim of blackmail. Someone (and in Britain that someone will almost always now be the government) who has the right snippet of film has you under control. At least, with the government, you are in no danger of financial blackmail. They have most of your money anyway and if they need more, they need only demand with menaces. tax.

If you have nothing to hide, what kind of loser are you? Get a life, quickly. You may then see the government that offers you safety and security in quite a different light.

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