The arrest of Damian Green, shadow immigration minister, has understandably led to a firestorm of internet coverage. I won’t link to them all, but just assume that every UK blog I can think of has weighed in, quite rightly.
Like most people, I have no idea what the police investigation is uncovering, or why the decision to arrest was taken.
I do believe, like Mike Smithson, that the consequences of such a decision are overwhelmingly negative for Labour. It’s one of the reasons that like Tom Harris I’m confident that this wasn’t a political decision. Why on earth would any minister take a bite of this particular sh*t sandwich?
So on the question of whether Damian Green should have been arrested, I have no idea. It depends on so many things that are unknown. If it is a simple matter of recieving leaks, then I’d argue definitely not. It would seem to be very similar to the Tony Clarke/Leo O’Connor case, where the MPs researcher passed on a secret document to MPs, and the researcher was arrested and charged but the MPs weren’t.
However, we have no idea what the investigation is looking at. The police may have evidence that they think warrants such action. Or they may not. We can’t tell.
What we do know is that an arrest of an MP is a very serious issue – especially when it concerns “political” issues. For that very reason, it’s a decision that shouldn’t be made, or influenced by politicians. This isn’t just because politicians might prosecute their enemies, but also because they might be tempted to protect their friends.
If a leak investigation, or a cash for honours investigation, or any other sort of investigation leads to an MP being of interest to an investigating officer then politicians just have to get out of the way.
All we know at the moment is that the police went to the Mayor of London before arresting Mr Green (who is also Chair of the MPA), who protested in the strongest terms, and then they went and did it anyway.
So either a) the police were being pressured even more strongly from elsewhere or b) they thought they had a justified arrest despite what the Mayor said.
Personally, I’m sure that we’ll discover that ministers had nothing to do with the decision to arrest Mr Green. If I’m wrong, those ministers would be (rightly), in serious trouble. I have no evidence for this, merely an argument from non-suicidal stupidity (oh, and the denials of everyone involved).
All that said, I do think some reaction has been completely over the top.
When Lord Levy, Ruth Turner and John McTernan were arrested by the Metropolitan police, It was Labour people who were outraged by police tactics, and right wing blogs who were cheering on the arresting officers and calling for the Prime Minister to be arrested. I don’t remember too many comments about the politicisation of the police or how similar it was to the age of Stalin.
So I’m suspcious of the instant assumption that this case is some sort of political operation. From that assumption comes the accusation that Mr Green’s arrest is Stalinesque, Zimbabwean and so on. That’s been adamantly denied, and I’m sure it’s not the case.
In fact, I’d argue that it’s likely to be a result of a clear seperation between ministers and operational decisions. Back in the sixties and seventies, it’s much more likely that such an investigation would have been handled without arrests (as it was with Albert Roberts, John Cordle and Reggie Maudling, who weren’t charged in the Poulson scandal). Now however, such discretion is unlikely to be allowed, which is probably a good thing.
If it turns out that this arrest was the result of police work and investigation, and had nothing to do with ministers at all, allegations about Stalinism and so on should be publicly withdrawn.
Equally, If a minister did encourage or order this arrest (which I cannot imagine them doing), they are in the wrong, and should pay a very heavy price.