I am back in England today - for the first time since habeas corpus was abolished. It feels odd. Everyone is going about their business as normal, as if nothing had happened.
I was reminded of a story told by a business partner of mine. His grandfather was a leading lawyer in Germany in the Thirties - the author of the best-known commentary on the Civil Code. He was also a Jew. As the Nazis' power grew, my friend's grandfather quietly insisted: "...The Germans are the most civilised nation in the world. This will pass..." He was a patriotic German. He had earned the Iron Cross in the trenches of the Great War. He carried on believing in "his" country. In short, he went about his business as normal. Then one day he received a letter from the Minister of Justice. Without preamble or explanation, it simply announced that his licence to practise law had been revoked.
Finally the truth hit home. He had his family pack up their possessions and they fled to England - escaping the Holocaust. In a poignant gesture some time later, he donated his Iron Cross to an auction to raise money for England's war effort. He had transferred his patriotism to a country he believed protected its peoples' rights. But nothing is forever. Germany was and is a civilised country, but bad and unprincipled leadership took it down an appalling path in the middle of the last century. Britain was and will be a civilised country, but authoritarian leadership is taking it sadly astray.
I don't want to believe that anything so bad is happening in England as happened in Nazi Germany. For one thing the comparison is too trite. I don't want to weaken an important argument by slinging historical mud. Sure, It's tempting to march to Trafalgar Square tomorrow with a banner marked "New Labour; New Nazis" but that would be to lower oneself to Alistair Campbell's level.
If Britain goes wrong (as I fear it may) it will go wrong in its own way. But the parallels with Thirties Germany ARE creepy. Our Government is using an alleged "threat" from a semitic ethnic group ("Muslim extremists") as a justification to suspend civil liberties which ten years ago educated Englishmen would have regarded as their birthright. The threat is unsubstantiated and we are expected to take the word of our country's security services - our "secret police". The government is stepping up police powers on an almost daily basis. It is directing legislation against classes perceived to be its enemies. It is proposing to collate all the State's knowledge of "its" citizens into a centralised database and link it to modern "identity papers". It is dismissing as disloyal the protests of those of us Big Blunkett called "the liberati".
The way the government attacks its enemies is becoming increasingly nasty. Don't like the EU? You are a xenophobe. Don't like immigration? You are a racist. Want to slow the rate of growth in public spending? You are proposing "cuts" equivalent to the salaries of every doctor, teacher and nurse - according to New Labour's agitprop. Worried that Muslims may not vote for a party led by one of the invaders of Iraq, New Labour has even pandered to Muslim anti-semitism by subtle efforts to highlight that the leader of the Opposition is a Jew. It seems you can't be a sincere opponent of this government. You can't be an honest person with a different point of view. No, as an enemy of the ruling Party, you are someone to be denigrated and dismissed in Alistair Campbell's foul and intemperate language.
I feel very sad. This does not feel like my country any more. For all that Russia is a messy dangerous place (as Mr Chubais found out yesterday morning), the people have more spirit than the English and more belief in their future. They have lived through a lot and yet never lost their essential contempt for anyone who wants to set himself up over them as the arbiter of their lives. They know from decades of bitter experience that - in Barry Goldwater's words - a government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take it all away.
My docile countrymen, on the other hand, are sleepwalking into a disaster, thinking of nothing but their mortgages. They are dreaming the 20th Century's big deadly dream - that the State will look after them.