One of the minor mysteries of British political life is the awe with which the pronouncements of the security services are often greeted – even though empirical experience clearly shows that those pronouncements are no more reliable, and quite often less, than in any other branch of the bureaucracy.
Today Lord Ashdown, former Lib Dem leader and ex-intelligence operative, delivered a very welcome slapdown to Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, who with other senior members of the security establishment criticised Lib Dem security policies for “deviat[ing] from the cross-party consensus.” Among the deviant policies: the Lib Dems’ willingness to “expose our intelligence and security services to relentless inquiry and investigation” and their “unilateral abandonment of control orders.”
Paddy fired back: “This is the man who delivered erroneous intelligence on WMD to Tony Blair in the Iraq war. I’m not about to take advice… from the man who after Tony Blair is probably the most responsible for the biggest foreign affairs blunder of our age.”
Along with many of my fellow-citizens, I happen to believe that the “cross-party consensus” has got the vital subject of our national security just about as wrong as it is possible to get. We have been harsh where we should have been liberal: on control orders, detention without charge, and blanket stop-and-search. There is increasing evidence that we have been complicit in torture. These and other measures have have had very little anti-terrorism value, but have undermined the rule of law for which we are fighting, energised the terrorists and alienated middle-ground Muslims whose support we need.
And we have been liberal where we should have been harsh. Under the so-called “compact of security,” the intelligence services allowed dangerous Islamic radicals to operate freely in Britain until 9/11. Even now, the British state continues to give money, legitimacy and influence to Islamist groups in Britain who have nothing but contempt for the democratic and pluralistic values of this country.
And yes, there is Iraq, and Afghanistan.
It is no accident that it is Britain which faces the most serious Islamist and terrorist threat of any country in the Western world. It is no coincidence that Britain is the only Western country to have come under suicide attack from its own citizens. These things are direct consequences of the calamitous “cross-party consensus,” and of the misjudgments of Sir Richard Dearlove and the rest of the security establishment.
So we really need that “relentless inquiry” into the failings of the spooks. We have to change that flawed “consensus.” Thank God one political party has the courage to say so, and to stick to its guns, however unhappy it makes the securocrats.