Taking Liberties documents the crackdown on civil liberties in Britain that has been implemented by the current Labour government, especially since the launch of the ‘war on terror’ that ostensibly commenced with the 11 September bombings.
Through interviews with a string of anti-war and environmental protesters, the documentary demonstrates the way in which the laws that were justified to the public on the basis that they were required to protect the domestic population from the threat of terrorism from abroad have actually been used to stifle opposition to government policy at home.
The film draws an important comparison between the situation in Britain today and that of the rise of the fascist government in Germany in the 1930s, when attacks on civil liberties were an important prelude to Germany’s war advance.
Since the Labour government came into power in 1997, it has earned the dubious distinction of creating more new laws than any other government in history. In its 10 years in office, 3,000 new criminal offences have been created.
Enormous steps have been taken, not previously possible in the political climate generated by World War Two, to consolidate and strengthen the power of government over the population and to undermine democratic freedoms taken for granted for many decades in this country – all in anticipation of organised opposition to British capital, which, in the context of declining profitability and a potential world-scale economic crisis, is less and less able to provide the welfare provision on which social peace has rested since 1945.
It is a testament to the anti-war movement that it has had amongst its number dedicated activists who have been prepared to challenge unjust laws and not be intimidated from their protests by heavy policing and criminalisation of peaceful protest.
It does not, however, require much heroism or ‘extremism’ these days to find oneself on the wrong side of the law. On 22 March 2003, coach loads of protesters travelling to a demonstration outside Fairford military base were detained, searched and then returned to London under police escort on the basis that the protest may have led to a ‘breach of the peace’.
Maya Evans and Milan Rai were arrested under the new provisions brought in as part of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA), which prohibits demonstrations from within 1km of parliament without prior consent of the police. Their very ‘disorderly’ protest involved calmly reading a list of names of the 1,000 soldiers of the British imperialist army killed in Iraq since the start of the invasion.
And at the Labour conference in 2005, the oldest member of the Labour party, Mr Walter Wolfgang, was strong-armed out of the auditorium and detained under the Terrorism Act for heckling Mr Blair over the Iraq war.
Terrorism laws have introduced the vaguest definition of ‘terrorism’, meaning that almost any member of the population is likely to have in their possession items that could be construed as “documents likely to be of use to terrorists” , while the requirement for police officers to have any “reasonable suspicion” before conducting arrests has been removed.
The new laws have provided a cover for the persecution of muslims in this country, and led to any number of arrests and prosecutions which have proved wholly spurious, including the ‘Ricin trial’ and the raid on a home in Forest Gate that left one innocent man badly injured when he was shot in the shoulder.
Far from uncovering a terrorist threat in Britain, these actions have been exploited by the government, both here and abroad, as justification for the further expansion of police powers and curtailment of civil liberties. Such raids and arrests are widely splashed across headlines in the early days and almost never reach anywhere the same level of media coverage when those detained are released weeks or months later without charge or conviction.
The weakness of the documentary underlies the filmmakers’ unshaken belief in ‘democracy’, which overplays the role that protest within the system can have in influencing government policy. The message of the film appears to be: if only we had our full democratic entitlement, we would have been able to stop the war in Iraq – and the German people would have been able to stop Hitlerite expansionism – through protest at home.
Despite this, the documentary makes important viewing and is, not least, a wake-up call at a time when it seems that the British people really are sleepwalking into a police state.