The arrest of Damien Green and the Police search of his offices was an affront to democracy. Dennis MacShane makes an important point:
Defining parliamentary privilege is not a matter for the Speaker, or the Clerks who advise him. Defending the rights of British citizens, who until last week complacently believed that what they told or sent to their MP would remain confidential and not be seized by the police, is a matter for all Members of Parliament.
We defend our privileges not to be self-important or to defame our foes, but as a vital democratic defence of the rights of a free people in a country that lives under rule of law, not under decisions of the police. Already in this parliament we have had the sad sight of a Scottish Nationalist MP writing a chancer’s letter to the Metropolitan Police and a huge inquiry being launched that resulted in nothing. A Parliamentarian – a peer, not an MP – was arrested and a young woman picked up in a dawn raid like something out of a film about central Europe in the 1930s. I have made serious allegations about Conservative Party funding, but I would never expect the police to do my political work for me.
The police made a mistake in not sending the Scottish Nationalist letter back with a polite note that it was politics – not policing – that would deal with his allegations.
They should also have told the Home Office to sort out their own problems with disloyal civil servants. As a result of this police lack of judgment, the authorities in the Commons were faced with an assertion that a crime was being investigated. At this point a reflex defence of Parliament should have kicked in – instead of allowing the police to march into Mr Green’s offices. Mr Green could have gone to the police and explained that what he was doing was no different from what previous oppositions did.
Instead, we have a mammoth breach in the core democratic doctrine of parliamentary privilege. On Wednesday, when the Commons returns, the Speaker must make clear that never again will the police or any other agent of the state enter into an MP’s offices and seize papers unless there is clear and overwhelming evidence of serious criminal, not political activity.
Our lack of trust in our elected politicians, feeds a state of affairs were our elected politicians seek to disassociate themselves from decisions. These are taken by unelected officials, not directly accountable to the general public. Some of those complaining about the arrest of Damien Green are suspecting political interference, suggesting it is Brown’s Watergate, and see the arrest of the MP as another example of an increasingly authoritarian Labour government. Alternatively, it could demonstrate the complete lack of political interference or influence politicians can have in the system. Labour ministers seem almost terrified of giving an opinion about the incident with Green – lest they be seen to be interfering (with an exception at last). If Brown didn’t know about the arrest he should have, and he should have told Police that their actions were unacceptable, just as they were in previous fishing expeditions.
This isn’t to say that the Police shouldn’t have operational independence, but I see no reason why the Police shouldn’t be told by our elected politicians (including ministers) when they are over-stepping the mark in an open and transparent manner. And we have got to trust our politicians more in order to allow them to do so, because our cynicism is corroding the ability they have to stand up for us as our elected representatives.