Britain is now a centralised single-ideology state, as secure in the grip of a superpower as any former eastern bloc country. The Whitehall executive has prerogative powers as effective as politburo decrees. Unlike Venezuela, critical issues such as the EU constitution or treaty are denied a referendum, regardless of Blair's "solemn pledge". Thanks largely to a parliament in which a majority of the members cannot bring themselves to denounce the crime in Iraq or even vote for an inquiry, New Labour has added to the statutes a record 3,000 criminal offences: an apparatus of control that undermines the Human Rights Act. In 1977, at the height of the cold war, I interviewed the Charter 77 dissidents in Czechoslovakia. They warned that complacency and silence could destroy liberty and democracy as effectively as tanks. "We're actually better off than you in the west," said a writer, measuring his irony. "Unlike you, we have no illusions."
For those people who still celebrate the virtues and triumphs of liberalism - anti-slavery, women's suffrage, the defence of individual conscience and the right to express it and act upon it - the time for direct action is now. It is time to support those of courage who defy rotten laws to read out in Parliament Square the names of the current, mounting, war dead, and those who identify their government's complicity in "rendition" and its torture, and those who have followed the paper and blood trail of Britain's piratical arms companies. It is time to support the NHS workers who up and down the country are trying to alert us to the destruction of a Labour government's greatest achievement. The list of people stirring is reassuring. The awakening of the rest of us is urgent.
The bit about Czechoslovakia reminds me of Alexei Sayle's line about Albanians laughing at us when we quack on about our free press: "You suckers! At least we know our media's lying to us!"
So, how close are we to Britain's sorry state? Too close for my liking. The recent draconian amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act were supported by both main parties, without so much as a peep from right-wing blogs, most of which were far too busy ranting about National's impending inability to sell policies to the highest bidder. Plague, both houses, etc.