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In defence of Damien Green

How could a defender of human rights on so many occasions turn so quickly into being an inquisitor?

Yardley MP Jess Phillips in Birmingham as part of The Great Get Together weekend to celebrate the life of murdered MP Jo Cox. Joe Giddens/Press Association. All rights reserved. I have no political sympathy for Damien Green. But the fact that he has been exposed to a defamatory media campaign while he has not committed any offence should force all those who believe in civil liberties to stand in his defence.

First, let us look at how ridiculous are the charges against him. It is not an offence to hold pornographic material on your computer. If a government would like to ban pornography, it is entitled to introduce the appropriate legislation. So far, not a single government, not even Saudi Arabia as far as I know, has introduced such legislation. Certainly, nobody in the UK or in any other member of the European Union. So, where is the crime?

Second, do we really want to launch witch-hunting against those who watch pornography? I admire Jess Phillips, the Labour MP and also a leading member of the Women and Equalities Committee of the House of Commons. But I totally disagree with her request of resignation from Damien Green. How could a defender of human rights on so many occasions turn so quickly into being an inquisitor? Everybody that calls for the resignation of Damien Green should be brave enough to deliver his or her computer to an independent enquire to check if any “improper” use has been made. For sure, I am not prepared to deliver mine. Does Jess Phillips or anybody else at the Houses of Parliament volunteer to deliver her or his computer?

Third, the fact that Mr Green has watched pornography on the computer of his employer is irrelevant. Trade Unions will never agree to give to the employers the right to check what their employees do with computers. Shall this be different because Damien Green is a Tory or because he is an MP? In the Internet age dominated by computers, smart phones and tables, and when the public/private dimension is more and more blurred, it is simply untenable to enforce the principle that we should use any device for business purposes only.

Fourth, the fact that Damien Green has lied is irrelevant in this context. Nobody should be asked about issues that concern her or his privacy alone. Sure, Mr Green should have responded: “It is none of your business” when asked. But if the question is irrelevant, any lie also becomes irrelevant. If somebody is asked: “Do you pick your nose?” and the response is: “No, I don’t”, you cannot really consider it a lie. For centuries, the Inquisition Tribunals asked the most intrusive questions (“Do you practice sodomy?”, “Have you ever spit in Church?”, “Have you ever eaten meat on Fridays?”) and forced individuals to confess with torture. Do we really want to go back to this climate?

Fifth, the way in which the information on Damien Green has been collected is sinister. Who is Neil Lewis to create a media case? My first idea will be to seize and inspect his computer, and I am sure that we will find something also disturbing there. We have learnt that under each preacher there is a hidden sinner. Can any member of the police, the very same police that we support with our taxes, be allowed to hold evidence on our private life? Mr Lewis is breaking the law and he should be held accountable for this.

The most disturbing issue of this story is that, so far, the voices of those who defend civil liberties have been silent. Where are all these intellectuals that have signed thousands of appeals on freedom of thought? How come that the progressive press is, so far, reporting in great details all the private interests of Mr Green while it has not yet said anything regarding what looks a clear breach of the privacy of an important public figure?

I do understand that in the UK there is a fierce battle against the Tory government since they are seriously jeopardizing the future well-being of British society. But political struggle should be carried out without low blows.

About the author

Daniele Archibugi is a director at the Italian National Research Council (CNR), and professor of innovation, governance and public policy at Birkbeck College.


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