Saturday, June 30, 2007

Taking Liberties (12A)

Written and Directed by Chris Atkins

Under Tony Blair, the UK took significant strides down the road to being a totalitarian state. That's the controversial claim Taking Liberties makes, but it's a difficult one to argue against once the evidence has been stacked up.

The film bases its case on six planks of post-war 'freedom', which Atkins insists all Prime Ministers since Churchill have held sacred: the right to protest, freedom of speech, privacy, no detention without trial, fair extradition, and absolutely no torture.

Using a slightly confusing mixture of interviews, sinister animations, news clips and front line footage, Atkins then shows us how all of these 'rights' have effectively been shredded over the Blair decade. Atrocities and absurd humour mingle 'freely', and I imagine the film would shake many blissfully ignorant people out of their stupor.

We know that Blair invoked 9/11 when he wanted to make some of his most tyrannical assaults on freedom. But none of them - from bans on protesting outside Parliament without police permission, to ID cards - could actually stop any terrorists, and almost all seem to have been planned before September 2001. If there were a few months without any terrorist activity, Tony's cronies claimed their laws were working. But 7/7 didn't mean failure, it just meant even tougher ones were needed, like ninety days detention without trial. And he wasn't actually that bothered about terrorism anyway, because he shrugged off intelligence that invading Iraq would 'heighten' the threat. So why was Blair so keen on the iron fist and jackboot?

Atkins doesn't have an answer, and that is this film's Achilles heel. It's all very well showing us the tireless Brian Haw saying 'be inspired', but be inspired to do what?

What Atkins fails to tell us is that ever since the state was first created, it has always brought in more draconian laws at times of a large gap between rich and poor. In fact the word 'draconian' refers to the Ancient Greek legislator Draco, who brought in the death penalty for what might today be seen as minor offences, at a time when the Athens aristocracy was having trouble with the lower orders.

Under Blair, an enormous amount of wealth was shifted from the poor to the rich, and the richest one hundred saw their fortune treble in value. 'Trust me' Tony built a police state for the same reason kings used to have castles built - protection. But that isn't an argument against trying to create an equal society; it's an argument for storming the fortress now, before the walls get any higher.

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