Over the course of its 11 years at the helm of the United Kingdom, the Labour Party has acquired a reputation for authoritarianism.  However, even its harshest critics would have doubted the evidence of their senses when awaking one morning to find that an opposition MP had been arrested for releasing information that embarrassed the government.  Nevertheless, Damian Green, the Conservative Party’s spokesman on immigration, did indeed find his house ransacked by nine antiterror policemen, his daughter in tears, and the private correspondence of his constituents seized from the House of Commons and taken into police guardianship.

Green had been informed of a number of embarrassing facts by a civil servant in the Home Office.  He learned that 5,000 illegal immigrants had been employed as security guards, and that the home secretary knew about it and had covered it up.  He also found out that an illegal immigrant had been working as a janitor at the House of Commons using a fake ID.  Again, this information was being withheld from the public.  Green also passed on to the press a letter from the home secretary warning that the recession could lead to a rise in crime, nationalism, and racially aggravated violence.

It cannot be overstated how unprecedented this arrest is.  Civil servants have been prosecuted for leaking documents in the past, but for an MP to be arrested over such a matter is absolutely unheard of.  There is a venerable tradition of members of the Civil Service leaking information to opposition MPs or to the press.  Although the Official Secrets Act forbids the release of information that might threaten national security, the leaking of other information is a matter of professional discipline for the Civil Service.  In any case, it is certainly not illegal to receive leaked documents.  In fact, it is the duty of MPs to bring such documents to the attention of the public when they are discovered.  As a young MP in the 1980’s, current Prime Minister Gordon Brown was surreptitiously handed documents about the Rosyth naval base where Britain’s nuclear-armed submarines are serviced.  He was eager to use them to attack the Conservative government of the time, and upon doing so he suffered no legal sanction.  In a particularly famous example, Winston Churchill received numerous leaked documents during the late 1930’s showing how poorly prepared Britain was for the possibility of war, and used them to harry the government for their negligence as the country sleepwalked into a disaster.  Given these precedents, there was absolutely no chance that Green would ever be charged for leaking these documents, let alone convicted.  So why was he set upon by the antiterrorism police?

It emerged that the police were looking for evidence that Green had offered “inducements” to the official, thereby hoping that his actions would cross the line into illegality.  In other words, the arrest was a fishing expedition.  The police arrested a member of parliament for doing his job in hopes that they would find evidence that he had broken the letter of an obscure piece of 18th-century common law.

Thus far, there has been no proof that the Labour Party influenced the decision to arrest Mr. Green.  However, the decision to ask the police to investigate was made by the permanent secretary to the Home Office, Sir David Normington, a man who works intimately with the government, especially with Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.  His boss, Sir Gus O’Donnell, the highest-ranking civil servant, says he was surprised that the incident occurred, and that neither the prime minister nor the home secretary was informed until after the arrest took place.

If this is so, the police acted without notifying the official who has ultimate authority over the police.  Nonetheless, one has to wonder whether they were led to believe that these actions would be welcomed.  As it turned out, both the head of the antiterror police who carried out the operation, AC Bob Quick, and the acting commissioner of the metropolitan police, Sir Paul Stephenson, submitted their applications for the vacant commissioner’s job shortly after the arrest.  Even if there wasn’t any indication from the home secretary that she would approve of such a move, did they expect their political masters to look kindly upon the harassment of an opponent?

The Civil Service claimed to have called in the police because they were concerned about the potential leak of material sensitive to national security.  Yet the information released by Green was not in any way a risk to the security of anyone other than the government.  The outrageous claim, which was repeated by the home secretary, was this: The leaks came from a place where national-security matters were discussed, so national security was at risk.  By that method of accounting, Gordon Brown would now be serving time in Her Majesty’s prisons, and Churchill would have spent World War II in jail.

Under the Labour Party, the police have been encouraged to see terrorism and national security as justifications for any interference they wish to make in the lives of the citizenry.  They feel they have carte blanche to act as they see fit whenever the magic words are uttered.  They were recently forced to conduct retraining sessions for officers around the country after a host of people were arrested under antiterrorism measures for taking pictures in public.  (As you can imagine, there is no law against taking pictures in public.)  The parents of a certain schoolboy in South London had to complain vociferously to the local police for some time before they agreed to scrub from his record the fact that he was stopped and searched under a provision of the Terrorism Act for taking a photo ofWimbledon Station.  All sense of proportion has been lost, as each arm of the state takes every opportunity to grab whatever power it can.  We now have no true concept of a national emergency; the merest mention of a threat to national security, and it is now expected that an over-reaction will ensue, which, in turn, will be welcomed by the government.

Mr. Green’s arrest is a national scandal, yet the police are reportedly shocked by the political fallout.  Small wonder: They have become habituated to being granted license to do whatever they want.  By coincidence, perhaps, Sir Ian Blair, the out-going commissioner of the Met, was serving his last day on the force when the arrest occurred.  He took the opportunity to hold a press conference denouncing political interference in policing.  Floors were spat upon and televisions kicked in all over the land, for Sir Ian is the most political head of the Met in its history.  It was he who oversaw the force’s conversion from a criminal-catching enterprise to a politically correct mediator between “communities.”  This same man, when confronted by a no-confidence vote by the elected representatives of the London Assembly, declared: “I have stated my position; if you have the power to remove me, go on.”  His boast may well have sounded the death-knell for the unelected heads of the Met.  Having shown no willingness to bow to public pressure, he will no doubt have strengthened public support for the Conservative policy of the direct election of police chiefs.

Despite criticisms of the arrest by members of all parties—most passionately from a few members on the Labour benches—the government and the prime minister refused to denounce the actions of the police, hiding behind declarations that the proper procedures must be followed and shamefully implying that the complainants are attempting to interfere with police business.  It is entirely indicative of the way in which Labour has taken the avoidance of responsibility as its style of governing; wherever the blame can be shifted, shift it, preferably onto the “procedures.”

The waters surrounding this incident are so muddied that no clear line of responsibility can be seen.  Suspicions remain that a nod and a wink set the police after the opposition and ensured they weren’t stopped along the way.  Equally, it is entirely possible that all of the blame lies with police incompetence and megalomania.  This, itself, is a lamentable situation.  The British can no longer be sure whether they are living in a police state or running afoul of the Keystone Cops.