The Conservative Party Conference 2014 began as the party was hit with yet more scandals. There was a defector to UKIP, whose party manifesto, let us remind ourselves, says “no to political correctness” (in other words yes to outrageous and offensive comments continuously made by its members).  As well as another Tory cabinet member officially resigning his position after sending inappropriate images to a woman half his age. However, the Conservative leadership valiantly goes forward, or backwards depending on how one views it, with Theresa May yesterday announcing new anti-terror measures.

May has set out plans that would come into effect if the Conservatives were to win the General Election next year. These include giving the police and intelligence agencies greater surveillance powers over our internet data usage and giving ministers further powers to restrict “extremist” organisations by making membership of such groups illegal. Furthermore, it would allow for certain individuals to be banned from having a presence in all types of media and in their local communities, if they are viewed to hold ideals which propose to “overthrow democracy”. The Conservatives argue that these measures are necessary due to the increasing terror threat from returning Jihadists from Syria and Iraq, to remedy the loophole in current legislation against “anti-democracy” organisations and the need to protect the public from those who are susceptible to extremist views.

Whilst such measure have been welcomed by those who see the need to have a blanket ban in order to best tackle the terror-at-home threat, this has been met with strong criticism.  Criticisms include the legislation’s threat to the democratic practices they vow to be protecting; the potential for the legislation to be counter-productive as well as the fact that this seems to be more to do with the Tories scrambling to guard itself against rising UKIP support.

Britain prides itself on being one of the world’s leading liberal democracies that legitimately represents its citizens, allows them their freedoms and tries to spread these important values throughout the international community. These freedoms and values include the right to practice any religion, the right to association with organisations and  the right of freedom of speech. However, these proposed policies could potentially limit the very freedoms that the British people are so quick to praise and protect. Government ministers would be able to decide whether certain individuals, viewed as extremists even if they have no terror organisation links, would be put on an “extreme ASBO”. Included in these restrictions would be plans to give police officials authority to vet the person’s social media updates, to ensure suspects were not “overthrowing democracy”, as well as placing limits on their movements and their ability to associate with people in society.

The danger here is that ministers will be able to dictate whether British citizens could potentially lose their freedoms and rights. This could be a power abused not only against suspected violent terrorists but also against environmental activists, such as those against HS2. However, the Conservatives argue that this would be prevented by the High Court reviewing each case individually. Yet  we must remind ourselves that this would be the same High Court that ruled David Miranda’s nine-hour detention in Heathrow under the 2000 Terrorism Act lawful earlier this year, due simply to his partner being the Guardian journalist who helped Edward Snowden. The privacy rights group Big Brother Watch supports this, citing that “in a democratic country, it is wholly wrong for people to be labelled an ‘extremist’ and face having major restrictions placed on their freedom without facing a due legal process and a transparent and accountable system.”

Furthermore, whilst Cameron argues that this legislation would help to prevent the “abhorrent” practice of British citizens joining ISIS in Syria and Iraq by silencing extremist views, the fear is that such legislation would actually be counter-productive. Supporters of this criticism argue that by trying to silence these anti-democracy organisations the government gives them greater credibility; an act which could easily make the groups appeal even more to those susceptible to join. Looking back through history, this has certainly been the case, as the more targeted organisation have been able to overcome their politically imposed restrictions. Sinn Fein’s leaders were silenced from mainstream media in the late 20th century but were still able to get their Republican views heard and popularised far beyond what the British government would have hoped. Furthermore, it is the fear that instead of letting these organisations voice their extremist and often obscure views and allowing them to essentially ruin themselves by being rather unconvincing, instead they will achieve this martyrdom status that will provide them with an overly-inflated sense of credibility.

Perhaps the culmination of most people’s fears will be the definitions of the two very subjective notions of “extremism” and “democracy”. What are these democratic values that are being threatened? Who is objective enough to fairly decide what extremist views and threats are? Conservative MP Dominic Raab gave a succinct conclusion on this highlighting that “you need to be very wary about criminalising thoughts and views”. This is an especially pertinent point in regards to this legislation because there are already anti-hatred laws that prevent such incitement to violence, yet this would advance to any individual or group of people who are deemed a threat, even if they themselves are not violent. Furthermore, this would coincide with Ian Duncan Smith’s plans to remove Britain from the European Court of Human Rights which currently can overrule British legislation that is seen to be against our rights as citizens, thus further encroaching upon our freedoms.

This article may prove completely useless if the Conservatives do not win the election, which current polls would suggest is a likelihood. Yet, what truly worries me is that in order to look like, as the The Telegraph puts it, the “toughest party on terror” the party is  willing to potentially implement legislation that would encroach upon their citizens’ freedoms. It is these displays of dangerous party politics that are increasingly disillusioning not only those ‘susceptible to extremism’ but also ordinary citizens in British society.

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