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TAKING LIBERTIES

19-06-2007

It's firmly established as The Stirrer's film of the year, but what do other readers making of Taking Liberties - the documentary that highlights our loss of liberties over a decade of Blairism? Dave Woodhall offers his view from the back row.

I went to see Taking Liberties last week. It’s gone from Cineworld now but it returns to MAC next month, so if you didn’t catch it first time round, make sure you do when you get the chance again.

The film starts with some gripping footage of peace protestors, many of them the sort of elderly ladies who always look so good in such scenarios, coming up against the full weight of the law.

Watching this gave me an eerie reminder of what it was like to be a football supporter in the eighties – the knowledge that no matter how innocent your intentions, you were still regarded as a lesser being in the eyes of officialdom, your rights temporarily suspended.

Taking Liberties isn’t perfect – it was made on a budget and in parts it shows. The cartoon graphics often jar, and become eerily reminiscent of another piece of 80’s nostalgia, Where the Wind Blows.

I also thought that there was a bit too much emphasis on Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. Important those these topics may be, they’ve been given extensive media coverage and I’d have preferred more footage of the ever-increasing ways in which the state are impinging on the ability to go about our daily business unhindered by officialdom.

This is something I’ve been paying increasing attention to over recent months. In every walk of life we are subject to worrying levels of attention.

Daft things like bag searches, ironically enough en route to watching Taking Liberties, because food can’t be taken into cinemas. You can’t even eat a packet of crisps while watching a film – and I’m sure it’s just coincidence that the price of refreshments in multiplex cinemas outstrips even Premiership football grounds.

More important aspects such as the sign in a pub I was entering, stating that police wearing head-held cameras were likely to enter the premises, together with the statement, chilling in its implications, that “Your conversations may be recorded.”

Think about that one for a moment. The police can now record whatever you might be saying, however innocuous the subject. What comes next, I wonder? After all, there’s been no real concern about the explosion of CCTV cameras that make us the most spied-upon nation on earth.

Incidentally, if such installations are so effective, why isn’t Britain the most crime-free country in the world?

We stand idly by while freedoms we’ve enjoyed for centuries are eroded. Britain is fast becoming a nation where style is everything and substance an irrelevance.

Who cares that Habeas Corpus and Magna Carta have been suspended, while we can watch Big Brother? Why worry about every aspect of your personal life being held on a database when the pubs are open and Bacardi Breezers are on special offer?

All of this comes with the old cliché that you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide. This may have been true at one time, but I’m not so sure a government that can introduce 3,000 new laws and make it an arrestable offence in certain circumstances to look at a military installation, even from a distance of several miles, is capable of ensuring that only those with what I would consider real criminal intent are punished.

As a rule I have no problem with the police. In the course of my work and at home I’ve been in regular contact with officers at every level from PC to assistant chief constable and I struggle to remember more than a handful of times when an individual officer hasn’t dealt with me fairly, courteously and with efficiency.

However, as Taking Liberties shows, there are times when the actions of the police, particularly when enforcing the myriad of new laws restricting individual freedoms, are incompatible with their role as servants of the public.

Without giving too much away, there’s one wonderful scene in the film where a protestor attempts to serve an injunction on a sergeant, only to be threatened with arrest for littering. Maybe it’s pressure from above (and if so, I wonder just how high above) or some macho culture that means a group of police officers feels intimidated by another group and therefore obliged to respond with a show of force.

Several reviews of Taking Liberties have criticised the film’s comparisons with Nazi Germany. After all, we aren’t at that stage yet, or anywhere near it. But Nazism doesn’t start with concentration camps. That’s where it ends.

(Taking Liberties is at MAC, Birmingham on July 2 and 3 details from www.macarts.co.uk)

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