Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Anti-Social Cohesion

It had to happen, I guess. Today we see the deft use of two of the tools of the dark art of government: the deliberate “leak” and the burying of bad (or at least potentially unpopular) news.

As the media’s eyes are on Obama’s arrival in the UK and the G20, we get this via the BBC: (sorry: link broken – will fix it shortly).

Government To Propose Social Cohesion Plan

Ministers are drawing up plans to extend hate-speech legislation to cover all “vulnerable groups” in the interests of improving social cohesion, according to an internal briefing prepared at the Ministry of Justice recently and seen by the BBC.

The document sets out options for promoting social cohesion and tackling social exclusion, and proposes legislation in the Queen’s Speech later this year which would outlaw comments such as Norman Tebbit’s infamous “on your bike” speech, which was widely seen at the time as an attack on the unemployed.

“Following on from the roll-out of Prevent [the preventing violent extremism initiative], and the experience gained from the operation of the hate-speech legislation, it is logical to extend these initiatives to cover hate speech against any vulnerable group.”, says the paper.

It continues “as currently drafted, the bill could criminalise speech such as (former Prime Minister) Margaret Thatcher’s statement that there was ‘no such thing as society’, but such anomalies could be corrected by a statutory instrument going forward.”

The note does not expand on what “other vulnerable groups” could include, but civil liberties campaigners fear that any speech or article that is seen as denigrating deprived communities could be caught by the new laws.

“Even an innocent, if distasteful, joke about the elderly could become a criminal offence under the plans”, said Shami Chakribati from Liberty.

A spokesman from the Ministry of Justice was unavailable for comment, but a statement was released, making clear that the legislation would only be used where there was clear and real danger of civil unrest or lasting damage to social cohesion resulting from hate speech.

The Muslim Council of Britain, which had been calling for a blasphemy law, welcomed the move, and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone also backed the proposals, saying, “with London welcoming the world to the Olympics in 2012, we simply cannot afford to have social unrest threatening London’s place as a world-class city.”

Last night the Conservatives warned about the cost of enforcing the new laws, pointing out that the Police were already undermanned and hampered by red tape and paperwork.

Haven’t we been here before? “It’s OK”, say the government, “we’ll only use it against really dodgy people, not nice folks like you”. Just like the anti-terrorist legislation wasn’t supposed to be used against Labour Party conference hecklers, or Icelandic banks.

Yet they’ve left the best ‘til last…

The legislation would be fast-tracked though parliament following November’s Queen’s Speech, to take effect from 1st April 2010.

Oh, just in time for the General Election eh? Fancy that.

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