Quentin Letts on the debate on Damian Green's arrest
No apology for returning again to the subject of the Damian Green arrest.
MPs should not be above the law, and civil servants cannot have an absolute right to leak things. Nevertheless parliamentary privilege, which provides members of parliament with a degree of special legal protection while doing their job, is an important part of a functioning democracy, and it is there not just to protect MPs but to protect ordinary citizens whose interests an MP may have taken up.
It is no accident that the same 200-year old and previously disused common law offence which was used to arrest Damian Green had previously been used to arrest a part time journalist on a local paper who was strip searched and threatened with life imprisonment for embarrassing the local police by revealing that they'd lost the keys to the local nick. (As mentioned in previous posts, the case against her was dismissed the day after Damian was arrested.)
Nothing I am writing on this is intended as an attack on the ordinary coppers who are simply trying to do their job, many of whom are deeply annoyed about what is going on. One serving police officer blogged anonymously shortly after the Green arrest "I didn't think I'd joined the Stasi" while a retired officer in Copeland said to me of the Green arrest, which he found terrifying, that in all his decades on the force he'd never heard of the common law offence for which Damian had been arrested.
I watched with interest much of yesterday's debate in parliament about the Damian Green arrest. One or two MPs who I do not normally have much time for, such as David Winnick and Chris Huhne, were excellent. Sadly many Labour MPs and the Home Secretary were rushing to find excuses for tactics which they would have been the first to condemn if Robin Cook or the present Prime Minister had been arrested while the Conservatives were in government.
I did not hear a single convincing argument from any quarter to suggest that what Damian Green is accused of doing is in any material way different from what Gordon Brown openly boasted on television of doing as an opposition MP, when he was interviewed in 1985 by Frank Bough.
All governments have people working for them who leak. All oppositions use the information leaked to them. All governments get cross about it and set up leak inquiries. Under the last Conservative government two civil servants were prosecuted for leaking. With 20:20 hindsight I think the juries concerned were probably right to convict Sarah Tisdall and acquit Clive Ponting.
But the arrest of a senior opposition MP for being the recipient of leaked information is new. And to see members of the present government alternating between pretending it is nothing to do with them and trying to smear Damian Green, when most of them from the Prime Minister down had done exactly the same sort of thing in opposition, is quite nauseating. These people are not fit to run our country.
Quentin Letts has a good article in today's Mail Online which you can read here. I particularly like the bits where he says:
"We might not be able to run an Empire any more, but by God the British Establishment can still organise a stitch-up.
"These tricksy little nuances – which kybosh the urgency of any inquiry and certainly make it party-political – were tucked away on yesterday's Order Paper. Some Opposition MPs, to their credit, actually read this highly technical document. On seeing the dirty work contained therein yesterday, these Hon Members promptly went loopy.
"Chris Huhne, for the Lib Dems, gave a magnificent defence of civil service leaks. I'm being serious. It really did happen. Foghorn Huhne, for once, roared like a trapped polar bear. His colleagues looked as stunned as the rest of us. Perhaps they should have elected him their leader, after all.
"Dominic Grieve, the donnish, 1950-ish figure who is now Shadow Home Secretary, did not just land bolshy Jacqui Smith in his net. He removed her fins and scales, filleted her, scraped out her guts and chucked her mermaid tail into the cat's lunch bowl, accusing her of 'wilful ignorance' and 'smear and spin'."