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The Danger of Trying to Police Britishness

18/05/2015 10:57 BST | Updated 15/05/2016 10:59 BST

Theresa May and David Cameron say the Queen's Speech will contain proposals to limit the 'harmful activities' of extremists and to promote 'British values' and to stop activities that would undermine democracy.

As simplistic political rhetoric it sounds a very obvious and desirable thing to do. Who can argue against that idea? But - it could be damaging to the very thing it is intended to protect.

When new laws are made great care should be taken to define what the law is intended to achieve because it is likely that anything too loosely defined will be misused by those who enforce the laws.

It is not likely to be misused dishonestly in a corrupt way but from my experience the police are good at using laws to the fullest extent - if the act in question looks like it breaks a law then people get arrested even if they are not the people or the activities the law was meant to apply to. The police do not often ask themselves what Parliament intended by legislation in operational situations. After all that really isn't their job to look at what Parliament meant by particular laws.

The danger is in making the wrong laws for the right reasons - or, sometimes, making new law at all. An obvious question is about who is going define 'British values' and what will constitute activities that undermine democracy?

The background to this talk by the Conservatives is of course recent incidents of extremism and criminality associated with the Islamic faith.

We already have plenty of laws that enable us to act against people who carry out acts of violence, or conspire to carry them out or attempt to carry them out or even incite others to do so. If there is a need to extend the law even further to tackle people who promote hatred and intolerance which is likely to cause them to carry out criminal acts then that is one thing. But these proposals may go well beyond that - and that is dangerous.

The danger lies in the execution of new laws - a question that has been asked already - are organisations promoting changing how MPs are elected going to be seen as undermining democracy? Is a protest against a business that exploits its workers or pollutes the environment going to be seen as 'un-British'?

These proposals are about the here and now and they feed partly on the realities of terrorism and the savage brutality of Isis - partly on the dreadful crimes of a few individuals in this Country but also on the what appears to be one of the few remaining, apparently, acceptable prejudices in the media - that of Islamophobia.

Of course people who commit acts of terrorism or cause other people to commit these acts should face the full weight of the law in this Country - but we should be careful not to deplete our freedom because isn't freedom of expression central to our values?

Where is the demand for these laws coming from anyway? Are the police and security services crying out for laws on British values or to protect democracy? I suspect not.

This is from the political ideology of the Conservative Party. They may believe passionately in these values - well so do we all don't we? This is especially so when these values are vaguely described and invoked - fine, let's all stand and salute Britishness, but don't make laws on it.

I suspect it might be part of a long term plan by the Conservatives for the next election and beyond - to be the Party of British values and democracy and anybody who argues is obviously against those values.

Perhaps there should be an enquiry led by some zealous politician to root out un-Britishness and anti-democratic activities - after all who could question that idea?

These proposals sound about as undemocratic and un-British as anything I have heard of and it's about political ideology and not about our safety.