Baroness Kinnock has announced that the Government will back Tony Blair for one of the EU's most important and powerful positions. Many observers are certain she is referring to the Presidency of the European Council.
Whether Blair can stand for the position currently depends on the outcome of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Once that is complete, the Treaty will come into force and Mr. Blair will be free to enter the contest for the post. As a well-known and high-profile figure, he would likely enjoy strong support from many politicians throughout the Union.
During his time as Prime Minister, Mr. Blair introduced a vast amount of new legislation which, when combined, was effective in dramatically reducing the civil liberties held by British citizens. Among the new laws were those that made it possible for the police and Home Office to put a citizen indefinitely under house arrest, without that citizen being informed of what charge was being made against them and without the right to appeal.
He also whipped up ethnic fears, either deliberately or unintentionally depending on your point of view, by claiming that "several hundred people" in the UK sought to commit acts of terrorism against British nationals. Though he did not narrow down precisely who these people were, Islamophobia in the wake of Al Qaeda's World Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks and the bombings in London on the 7th of July 2005 led to a general consensus that the shadowy group was comprised of Muslims either born here or immigrants - this has in turn led to a wave of attacks on Muslims themselves, their property, their businesses and mosques (and anyone else thought to look "a bit foreign," including Hindus, Sikhs and Jews). Mr. Blair also lied to the British people, in a brazen attempt to swing popular opinion in support of his desire to go to war in Iraq, when he claimed that British intelligence had infallible evidence that Saddam Hussein controlled weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed within 45 minutes. Investigations carried out by UN inspectors subsequently failed to find any evidence whatsoever that these weapons ever existed, and Blair was forced to admit that they would not be found.
When he went along with the USA's extraordinary renditions, Blair made Britain party to the torture of terrorism suspects. In making possible the extrajudiciary transfer of suspects between states, the USA was able to have prisoners interrogated in nations that use torture without carrying out human rights abuses themselves. An example is that of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Muslim with dual Syrian-Canadian nationality who was detained by the US Immigration and Nationalization Service at John F. Kennedy Airport in 2002 while returning to Canada following a holiday in Tunisia. After two weeks of interrogation, he was sent to Syria where he was tortured over a ten month period and eventually forced to sign a confession linking him to Al Qaeda. He later receiving the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award in recognition of his efforts to draw attention to his own and case and those of other people, and the US House of Representatives apologised for the suffering he had undergone in 2007.
There had long been suspicion that British airstrips have been used as a staging post by US aircraft transporting detainees to the various facilities around the world where they are tortured, leading to accusations that the Government colluded with the CIA in allowing torture to take place. Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights - which was, to a large extent, drafted and put into place by Britain in a direct response to the widespread atrocity and human rights abuses that took place throught Europe during World War 2 and the Shoah - expressly prohibits the use or sanctioning of torture with no exceptions or limitations. Blair's Government hotly denied the accusations made aginst them, though campaigners continued to claim that around 400 of these flights had landed here and were, in time, successful in proving that at least two had done so. This led to the Government recalling previous statements in which they denied the claims. Although the British Government has not officially sanctioned torture, in passively co-operating with the US Government and its extraordinary rendition flights it is nevertheless guilty by association of breaking human rights conventions or at the very least failing to take steps to prevent human rights abuse.
Even a former head of MI5, Stella Rimmington, accused Blair's Government of exploiting the paranoia post-911 to restrict civil liberties when she said that the draconian new legislation was forcing the British population to live under an increasingly repressive regime. "It would be better that the Government recognised that there are risks," she said, "rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state."
Britain, which constitutes just o.2% of the European landmass, contains 20% of the continent's CCTV cameras and the average Londoner will be filmed by around 300 different cameras each and every day. While few of us would oppose all cameras (since they were added to Cambridge parks, there has been a noticeable decrease in robberies), many people are worried about the next generation of monitoring devices. Cameras have already been fitted with directional microphones, allowing the operators to listen in on private conversation, and it is reported that Government scientists are developing "gait recognition" software allowing the cameras to identify anybody moving in a "suspicious manner." Facial recognition software has already been developed and, according to some sources, will soon be used in cameras used to monitor the public. No other modern government has been as successful in quietly introducing the widespread monitoring of its citizens. Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act of 2000, the Government has given itself the right to carry out surveillance by any means on any type of communication. Taken to extremes, this could mean private conversation taking place anywhere - including within homes.
The Terrorism Act 2000 allowed the police to hold a suspect for seven days, without making a charge against them. Later attempts were made to increase this to 90 days but were defeated in the House of Lords, as was an extention to 45 days. It currently stands at 28 days, effectively making it possible for a citizen to be imprisoned for almost one month without being told why they are being detained. Under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, the Government can deploy military forces anywhere within British borders during peacetime. It also allows them to sieze public or private property at any time without compensation. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 allowed peaceful political protest to be outlawed in any defined area, seriously restricting the democratic right to express dissent or opinion - this law has been used to ban protest within a one kilometre radius of Parliament ever since, preventing all protests other than those given express police permission. Permission is very rarely given.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 makes it possible for the Home Office to impose a strict control order against any British resident. Under this law, the subject can be prevented from engaging in certain employment, prevented from using telephones and the Internet, be restricted from free movement, be electronically tagged and closely monitored and forced to regularly report at a designated police station - all without trial. Innocent until proven guilty? Shami Chakrabarti, of the human rights pressure group Liberty, said: "If protecting the public is the top priority then Control Orders do not achieve it. Dangerous terrorists should not be in their living rooms but convicted and imprisoned. Innocent people should not be subjected to years and years of community punishment without trial. Control Orders are the worst of both worlds and the new Home Secretary should take this opportunity to learn from the mistakes of his predecessor."
The Counter Terrorism Bill of 2008 sought to establish secret trials without jury if the Home Secretary deemed this to be in the interests of the public or national security. This meant that a suspect could be on trial without them or their lawyer being given access to or knowledge of the evidence being used against them, effectively making it very difficult or impossible for them to formulate a defence or appeal.
During his years as leader, Tony Blair's Government did more to remove the civil liberties enjoyed by British people than any other in history. He made it possible for peaceful, democratic protest to be quashed before it can even begin. He created a means by which the Government can remove and retain property from private citizens, without having to pay them anything in return. He enabled the Government to use the nation's army against its own civilians at any time. In exploiting the paranoia that resulted from terrorist attacks, he created fear and hatred of an ethno-religious group and in doing so allowed that group to become a scapegoat for many of society's ills which were then no longer seen as the fault of the authorities or of Parliament. That, in turn, raised xenophobic feeling amongst certain sections of society and allowed the far right to become a force in British politics for the first time since their defeat at the hands of the working classes, ethnic groups and those who oppose political oppression when Mosley's fascists were routed at Cable Street in 1936, just before this country went to war to defend and preserve the rights of its own citizens and those of other nations.
That's a Nazi cap and Hitler moustache, just in case you were wondering what Blakey from On The Buses has done to deserve being compared to a dodgy old totalitarian dictator such as Tony Blair.
So what we have here is a politician who has significantly restricted the rights of his country's inhabitants, prevented them from protesting against those restrictions (or, indeed, anything else they feel sufficiently strongly about), demonised one of the nation's ethnic groups, driven his nation to conflict with foreign powers, complicitly sanctioned and allowed the use of torture in direct contradiction of human rights conventions, removed British people's right to a free, fair trial and paved the way for the rise of racist, far-right, even fascist, politics. He now seeks to become leader of Europe in its entirety. Does that remind you of anyone?