This ‘crackdown’ on trolls shows Cameron thinks we’re all stupid
UK China GDR
dailymail.co.uk bssb.be 22.10.2014
David Cameron has lived up to his claim to be ‘the heir to Blair’. Unfortunately. Nowhere is this more obvious than in his administration’s habit of treating the law of the land as a public relations exercise.
In recent days we have seen two further examples. First, the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond declared that British jihadis in Iraq and Syria might be charged with the ancient crime of treason — last used against the Irish-born fascist William Joyce, hanged in 1946 for his pro-Nazi broadcasts during World War II.
This headline-catching suggestion is clearly designed to demonstrate to the public that Hammond and his colleagues take a very firm line against the likes of ‘Jihadi John’, the Briton who has been decapitating Western hostages held by the group known as Islamic State.
In fact — and as Hammond will know — there is already a law against murder. More pertinently, as the former director of public prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, pointed out, this was ‘a juvenile response to a grown-up problem . . . the problem is catching them and then applying the law.
‘If we have evidence sufficient to charge them with treason, we certainly have evidence to charge them with membership of a terrorist organisation, terrorist training, murder, rape, torture and other things they are boasting about’.
The truth is that the accusation of ‘treason’ — traditionally understood to mean treachery to the monarch — is only likely further to boost the ludicrous self-importance of these British-born jihadists.
As Margaret Thatcher observed with the terrorists of the Provisional IRA, they should be treated as common criminals. Besides which, the British fighters in Syria had gone there to bring down the regime of President Bashar Assad, at a time when it was also the policy of Her Majesty’s Government.
That’s not my idea of treason — nor that of any British court, I suspect.
The latest example of this lawmaking as PR came yesterday when Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced — via a newspaper, rather than the legislative chamber known as the House of Commons — plans to quadruple the maximum six-month sentence for ‘internet abuse’. Grayling told The Mail on Sunday: ‘We must send out a clear message: if you troll you risk being behind bars for two years.’
Proposing legislation to ‘send a message’ generally means little more than the politicians want to send the message that they are opposed to some recent outbreak of nastiness. When Tony Blair introduced a law to stop people ‘glorifying terrorism’ in the wake of the London suicide bombings, he declared that this was ‘a signal of strength’. It was opposed by Lord (Norman) Tebbit, whose wife had been crippled by an IRA bomb: Tebbit understood the difference between laws to fight terrorism and laws designed merely to make a weak government ‘look strong’.
Similarly, Blair’s attempt to introduce a law permitting terrorist suspects to be held for 90 days without charge — amounting to a suspension of habeas corpus — was purely to demonstrate ‘toughness’.
The classic example of Blair’s conflation of public relations with the criminal law came when he suggested that police officers should be empowered to march drunken louts to cash-points so that they would pay fines ‘on-the-spot’. Not only was this an astonishing breach of due process, it seemed to elude Blair that the great majority of such louts would very likely not be carrying a credit card with them, or have bank accounts in credit. No matter: this was one of those ‘eye-catching initiatives with which I should personally be associated’, as a notorious leaked prime ministerial memo later revealed.
Mr Grayling — who has apparently been exercised by the online abuse of Chloe Madeley after she had defended remarks about rape by her mother Judy Finnigan — said of his proposal to quadruple sentences for so-called trolls: ‘This is a law to combat cruelty — and marks our determination to take a stand against a baying cyber-mob.’
Well, I’m against cruelty, too: but, in a wicked world, there is a limit to the ability of those who enforce the law to be everywhere at once. There is, unfortunately, no shortage of semi-deranged idiots who harbour deeply unpleasant thoughts about those in the public eye. The internet is a wonderful invention, but it has enabled weirdoes to vent their spite more noticeably.
The best remedy, if you have a Twitter account (which I don’t) is simply to block them — just as the best way of avoiding an unpleasant television programme is not to watch it in the first place. There is also a case for the companies providing such services to monitor their users and suspend them if they are constantly abusive.
But to ask the police to keep up with every troll on the exponentially expanding internet is to wish for a publicly funded security organisation more akin to that of the People’s Republic of China, or the late unlamented East German Stasi.
We are already, as the Oxford Internet Institute pointed out, ‘incredibly heavy-handed’, compared with other Western countries. For example, two years ago police swooped on the home of 17-year-old Reece Messer, after he had abused the diving star Tom Daley online. Yet Daley himself had not complained — another internet user had, on his behalf.
As the then deputy chairman of the Police Federation remarked afterwards: ‘Can we police the internet when someone offends someone else? We cannot involve the police every time something unpleasant is said.
What makes this all the more absurd is that the police seem already so inundated that they are increasingly telling victims of crimes such as burglaries or car theft to ‘carry out their own investigations’.
Last month, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said such ‘high-volume’ offences were as a result ‘on the verge of being decriminalised’. And, despite the fact that convicted repeat-burglars are supposed to be jailed for at least three years, the Civitas think-tank recently revealed that judges were ignoring these guidelines in more than three-quarters of cases.
Given that for all but the most abominable of crimes, convicted criminals are automatically released after serving no more than half the term passed by the courts, it is clear that until the Government builds more prisons, nothing it says about ‘increased’ sentences can be taken seriously.
Oh, and there is another Blair-like element to the fanfare for ‘tougher sentences for trolls’. Mr Grayling made exactly the same announcement seven months ago. They really must think we are stupid.
If I didn’t know better, I would have disbelieved a piece by Kelly Rose Bradford in last Thursday’s Mail.
Headlined ‘I love my dog more than my son’, it was illustrated by a photo of Ms Bradford hugging her West Highland Terrier Matilda, while her son William stares mournfully.
But many years ago we were staying at a seaside hotel, and saw a young couple at an adjoining table cooing affectionately over their dog, while totally ignoring their baby.
It was quite chilly on the terrace and the little boy was looking distressed and blue about the lips — not that his parents noticed, so dedicated were they to popping bits of food into their pooch’s jaws.
Perhaps wrongly, we said nothing to them. I still wonder how their son turned out.
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