Friday, 30 October 2009

Don't Panic

Beware all you fare-dodgers, sausage roll eaters who drop crumbs, bird feeders in the park who litter with pieces of bread, environmental luddites who are collared for a sweet wrapper blowing out your hand as its about to enter the litter bin, and not forgetting the motorist, yes you people who exceed your parking limit for 2 minutes, or exceed the speed limit by 7 mph on a motorway, for under an extension of the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) you too can join the ranks of Drug Baron’s and Super-Pimp’s by having your home raided, cash confiscated and assets frozen.

However, it won’t be the paramilitary uniformed sub machine gun armed bobby breaking down your door; it will be a “new model” army of clipboard armed power-crazy council officials, supported by quangos and other agencies that spring up to support this madness.

Alan Johnson is expected to announce the measure next week.

Sneaking it in through a Statutory Instrument, you know those wonderful Parliamentary tools that mean there will be no need or opportunity for MPs to debate the issue, and so bodies such as Local Councils, TFL, the Royal Mail (I’ve lost count of the number of times I have to collect business post and pay the underpaid tariff) clamping companies and old Tom Cob and his crew can expect to use these powers independent from police control and fairly swiftly.

However, Labour instructs us not to panic! Each empowered body will receive ‘financial investigators’ trained and monitored by a quango. This is a very good thing apparently, because they become “less reliant on more traditional law enforcement agencies” like the pesky police. Quite right, why should someone trained in upholding the law, and after judicial conviction, under a right to trial by jury decide when the right time to confiscate somebody’s wealth is, when faceless cash strapped Government bureaucrats would do so much more quickly and eagerly? We are assured that this extension shall not be exploited or abused; presumably in the same way that anti-terrorism legislation has not been used to rifle through bins, allow ladder armed council officials snooping over garden fences to check if wheelie bins are being used correctly, to monitor telephone and e-mails records and to put in place covert surveillance of law abiding parents trying to get better school places for their children. And my favourite old chestnut, the move will also boost the fight against crime and free up police time, the time to implement all that diversity and gender awareness training has to be found from somewhere you know! Although I would add the Government neglects to mention if it will also increase bureaucracy, direct resources towards hounding law abiding people over petty incidents and increase paranoia amongst citizens every time they forget to run back and top up their parking ticket.

It would be naive to assume that most bodies given these new powers will scarcely use them, instead deciding they should focus their resources on their real jobs, like collecting bins and providing efficient local services and that if a proper villain deserves to have an asset confiscated that is a matter for the police and the courts. However, the promise of a cut of the confiscations may just be too alluring for these bodies and encourage widespread abuse of the amended POCA left, right and centre.

These new measures are draconian, invasive and rather unnerving, another chip at our traditional liberties and freedoms, threatening each and every one of us with being criminalised and with having our means of survival cut off for the slightest misdemeanor. It seems that no act is too low, no sum of money too small for Labour now to try and plug the deficit they are responsible for, and with our money.

You have been warned.

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