Misuses of Authority

‘The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt’John Philpot Curran, a judge in Ireland, July 10th 1790.

Allowing for the beliefs of another time, the heart of this assertion is as relevant today.

Jacqui Thompson, a community councillor who lives near me in Carmarthenshire, and whose blog is titled www.carmarthenplanning.blogspot.com,tries to open up to scrutiny the workings of Carmarthenshire County Council, the authority responsible for schools, housing, local roads, leisure amenities, permissions for development, and community well-being. The councillors are elected, the officials who do the work are not.

Jacqui was arrested this month for filming a meeting of the council, which is nominally open to the public.  She was using her mobile phone, not even a professional kit with lights and microphones. She refused to follow the orders of the chairman and chief executive to stop filming. The powers-that-be at the council called the police. Four officers arrived, they put Jacqui in handcuffs and took her to Llanelli police station.

When we accept that police can arrest people who are not committing any crime, we are way down the slippery slope of undemocratic authoritarian control. We have reached this point, putting up with so many controls on our behaviour, because we have been persuaded to accept that they are in our own best interests, there to protect us. Thus we shuffle through airports, subject to undignified searches, aware of police with guns and dogs. At this point, ‘protection’ is becoming, or has become ‘control’.

Carmarthenshire County Council is, it appears to me, doing everything it can to control  public access to information about its decisions. While it uses public money to publish a bi-monthly newspaper with headlines such as ‘Patients benefit from investment’, ‘Designed to inspire’ and ‘Help for householders’ (all in the May-June 2011 issue), it does not allow voters to use modern technology to give an accurate filmed record of its deliberations, which on the day Jacqui was arrested apparently included a decision not to discuss the petition presented by frail pensioners who attended a  day centre that the council closed, along with four others, in May.

Of course, if we let authority remove our democratic rights, we have only ourselves to blame, as John Philpot Curran said 221 years ago.

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