Over drinks last night I was explaining my concerns about civil liberties in Britain to a senior colleague from London. He thought them overstated. He agreed that some new laws were inappropriate, but said "There's nothing to worry about really. Life goes on much the same and we're too nice people in Britain for it ever to lead to a police state."
The very next morning, I read that "counter-terrorist police" have arrested a shadow minister for receiving leaked data from a civil servant. Browsing around about the story, I note that news of the arrest was itself leaked in advance. There could be no policing reason for that, only a political one. Meanwhile, in the blogosphere, Bob Piper is crowing idiotically about "Tory sleaze." I have never understood the affection in which Piper is held by other bloggers. He would have made an excellent citizen of East Germany - too stupid to serve the state in any direct capacity, but the sort of loyal fool who would immediately assume that anyone seized by the Stasi was guilty of something. It is precisely such people (and, sadly, people like my naieve colleague of last night) who make police states possible.
This story brings together several of my concerns about the deadening of political freedoms in Britain. No respectable Briton should be prepared to serve in a police force which is being used for political purposes. The officers concerned should be asking themselves why a "counter-terrorist" unit was used for a leak investigation. Either they should find it chilling that anyone who opposes the state is seen as a terrorist, or they should recognise that someone above them is trying to blacken the name of HM Opposition. Either way, they should be uncomfortable.
The Goebellian deftness with which the Government manipulates the press and public opinion never fails to frighten me. Guido speculates as to the real purpose behind the incident - and he may be right. I have to worry though about the mentality of a government which uses anti-terrorism forces so casually. It seems to me that Britons being "nice people" is no protection. If anything, it makes them more at risk.