Suddenly Nick Cohen realises counter-terrorism laws can be abused

9:49 am - September 19th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    

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Nick Cohen actually has a good article in the Observer today (no, I’m not joking!) about the so-called Twitter trial. Read the whole thing, though this bit caught my eye specifically:

Beyond the law lies the politics. The hounding of Paul Chambers stinks of Labour authoritarianism. The prosecuting authorities showed no respect for free speech. They could not take a joke. They carried on prosecuting Chambers even when they knew he was harmless. They turned a trifle into a crime because a conviction helped them hit performance targets. Inside their bureaucratic hierarchies, it was dangerous to speak out against a superior’s stupidity. Better to let an injustice take place than risk a black mark against your name.

What surprises me is that anyone thought it was going to turn out any other way.

I’ve opposed most anti-terrorism legislation precisely because it had the potential (and likelihood) of being abused to get anyone the police did not like. They used it to stop protests during the pro-Tibetan rally in London; they’ve used these laws against environmental protesters for years.

But Nick Cohen and his mates were adamant that Islamists represented the biggest threat to western civilisation ever, and so the extra vigilance was necessary.

This is the same Nick Cohen who said that terrorist suspects should be deported even if there was a chance they’d be tortured, remember?

The French, being French, don’t have taboos. They just do what’s in their national interest.

I’m pretty sure ‘national interest’ is invoked by the police when asking for these increasingly draconian anti-terror laws.

And here’s a more recent article where he says:

Most of the British do not behave as if they are at war. Every third-rate political pundit has ruled that we cannot say that we are in a “war on terror”. Meanwhile, politicians will not allow us to say that we are in a “war against radical Islam” because they have to pretend that religion does not motivate religious extremists.

We’re at war people. And what happens when we’re at war? Yes, the executive usually ask for extra powers and justify excessive force in the name of national security.

It’s quite amusing to see a columnist who helped in raising the temperature through his rhetoric is now lamenting that the anti-terror laws that came as a result are a bastard.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments

He’s a contrarian, but his heart is in the right place.

2. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells


Also, Nadine Dorries and Iain Dale.


The kind of contrarian who constantly contradicts himself.

It wasn’t very long ago that Nick thought it would be amusing to annoy people by talking about New Labour’s extension of personal freedom. Today he is moved to denounce ‘Labour authoritarianism’. Contrarian!

That is the kind of contradiction that would bother someone who cared about being coherent and consistent.

He’s a contrarian, but his heart is in the right place.

I’ve no idea what a rarian is, but I’ve always thought that NC was a bit of a cont.

Oh good, so now we can look forward to Nick Cohen removing his nose from Tony Blair’s backside where it has been for the last 10 years, and apologising to his few remaining readers that he got it wrong.

Oh wait, Nick was acting as a Blair book salesman a couple of weeks ago. So no change there then……..


I do not agree that his heart is in the right place. In fact, I would dispute the issue of Nick Cohen having a heart.

We are talking here about a primary signatory to the useless Euston Manifesto.

I’d have thought that walking up one escalator should not allow you to leap over and walk down the other.

For the useless tit had already fixed his colours to a mast. Now he jumps! Let’s let him jump and let us all bow down to his change of heart?



He was wrong then and he still is.

What you seem to be allowing , it seems to me, to me, is some sort of journalistic dispensation.

A sort of Glenda Slagg game that journalists play. Love it, waterboarding! Tommorrow, how I hate waterboarding!

But he gets to write for the Observer, so that’s all right then?

Of course, Cohen is a friend of David Alan Green, aka Jack of Kent, whose blog highlighted the abuses of this case.

I am happy to welcome the return of a prodigal lefty. I just hope he renounces some of his other specious guff such as that book, “What’s left?”

What’s new?

This happened in South Yorkshire which has its historic traditions to maintain.

“the 1860s, industrial unrest culminated in the Sheffield Outrages, the nadir of which was a series of explosions and murders carried out by a small group of ultra-extremist militant [trade unionists].”

The government of the day set up a Special Commission of Enquiry into the outrages.

“In the 1860s, the conflict between capital and labour reached new heights in the ‘Sheffield Outrages’. These culminated in a series of explosions and murders carried out by union militants. According to an anarchist pamphlet, The Sheffield Outrages: Tracts for the Times:

‘Sheffield, then the capital of English trade unionism, was the only town where the decrees of the union were enforced by the blowing up of factories or shooting capitalists. Nor were these outrages the peculiar invention of William Broadhead [secretary of the Saw Grinders Union, who was heavily implicated]. Like machine smashing or rick burning, they were an inheritance of the evil days of oppression and coercion.’

‘When strikes are criminal offences, and unions are smashed with all the might of law, what method is there left but outrage?’ asked the anarchists.

Leap forward a century and the government of those times was obliged to set up another public inquiry into allegations that members of the Sheffield CID used rhino whips to beat confessions out of prisoners they had arrested:

Sheffield Police Appeal Inquiry (White Paper Cmnd: 2176) – extracts from which are here:

So ignore the arguments, ignore the way that Labour laws have criminalised someone for no good reason, and instead attack the journalist.


I haven’t looked in a bit, but Jack of Kent seemed to me to be a right on person I could agree with.

He took apart some of the shit against a scientific perspective, if I remember correctly. Standing up as I think he did, for Simon Singh?

I certainly agree with Nick. I just think he’s hilarious because people have been telling him for years that, if you give the police huge, wide-ranging powers, they’ll find excuses to use them in unexpected ways. Meanwhile Nick has spent that time waving the Waggy Finger Of Tut-Tut at those people, calling them knee-jerk liberal whatevers and mulling over the “Ticking Bomb” problem with torture.

And here he is, suddenly announcing that OMG the police are abusing anti-terrorism powers and that we should be cautious about the power over our lives that we allow the state, as if he’s just thought of it. Over a months-old story, no less.

You have to admit, it is pretty entertaining. If he had a little more self-awareness, he wouldn’t be half as funny.

The Master,

You say this:

So ignore the arguments, ignore the way that Labour laws have criminalised someone for no good reason, and instead attack the journalist.

Well, who exactly has been buying into the concept of a prescriptive state?

Would it be Nick Cohen?

Jesus, I think it was….

Oh, I agree. I like JoK’s work, he’s very important. My note wasn’t intended to criticise, rather I hoped it was a possible explanation.

Are you suggesting anyone associated with Nick Cohen should be considered damned? I retained a romantic fondness born of nostalgia until I read his specious book, What’s Left. I don’t know what’s going on in his head. I suspect he sees himself as a contrarian in the style of Christopher Hitchens. I’m afraid he simply doesn’t have Hitch’s perspicacity.

Cohen should have got a clue when New Labour laws were used to remove a heckler from a Labour Conference.

But then poor little Nick has been in love with Tony, and as they say love is blind.

That said, given Nick’s habit of just rewriting blog posts he’s read into his books and columns, Jack of Kent is a far better and saner source than Harry’s Place or Professor Norm. I see this as a very positive development.


Are you suggesting anyone associated with Nick Cohen should be considered damned?


Flying Rodent @ 15

I refer you to my post @ 10. I have a great deal of respect for Jack of Kent, especially over the Simon Singh affair.

Flying Rodent,

We might not agree on much, but the obvious fact that we agree that Nick Cohen is a tit, gives me a warm, heterosexual affection, for you.

Let us lie in a bed of anti-zionism. Y’know, the thingy that cannot call it’s name.

Hug, err, well perhaps not….

I expect this will get quoted forevermore….

I didn’t agree with Nick Cohen’s deportation article you link but this had nothing to do with the detaining of terrorist suspects without trial or the use of anti-terrorism laws for domestic policing, which I think you’ll find he’s been reasonably consistent in opposing.

Here’s one from 2003, for example.

ignore the way that Labour laws have criminalised someone for no good reason,

I think it’s obvious I oppose these laws and the ludicrous attitudes of the CPS.

But there’s no point getting all heated up about it now – those Labour laws have been used to criminalise people for years. This is just one high-profile case because it went so over-the-top.

When they mistakenly broke into and shot the alleged ‘ForestGate bombers’, and found that it was all a mistake, they went on to try and smear him as having child pornography and everything.

Why didn’t Cohen get so exercised then?

You ignore the fact that the twitterer wasn’t a muslim. If he was, do you really think that Nasty Nick would’ve been bothered?

I’m totally with Nick Cohen. It’s disgraceful that we can’t talk about this war we’re clearly all having with Muslims just to pacify the PC Brigade. This idea that just being honest would lead to sweeping generalisations, demonising and hysteria is just ridiculous. I mean, it’s not as though national newspapers are going to start suggesting the entire religion is in cahoots, and is… oh I don’t know… planning to, say, kill a leading Western head of state, is it?


Thank you for the kind comments 🙂

‘We’re at war people.’

This from Sunny Hundal, Afghan war cheerleader.

I am normally more generous when considering Nick Cohen’s arguments than others around here. But this NC statement (quoted by Sunny) is just so stupid: “They turned a trifle into a crime because a conviction helped them hit performance targets.”

I do not have special insider knowledge about the targets for South Yorkshire police, but I bet they don’t have a target for arrests of “genuine terrorists”. And they certainly don’t have a target for arresting people who blow off steam on Twitter.

Police arrested the unfortunate Mr Chambers because they had bottled themselves into a corner. By their twisted logic, it was impossible to say “Sorry, mate, we screwed that one up”. So they and the CPA prosecuted him, which is where we are now.

This prosecution isn’t about targets. It is about macho pride, the inability to apologise and failed management within South Yorkshire police.

“the inability to apologise” “South Yorkshire police”

Who would have thought we’d ever see those 2 phrases appear in the same paragraph 😉

27. Dick the Prick

@Sally – whoo hoo – haven’t called any one a troll!

I dunno, love Nick Cohen and Will Hutton’s good value but always by the Observer because it’s just lovely. They got away with changing the format which is defo shitter than before but kinda still does a decent job(ish). Think Barbara Ellen hasn’t got her feet yet but it’s a tough gig to do.

Have always bought it for the Rawnsley though and kinda get a bit pissed off if he’s on t’jollies so quite happy today. He genuinely is the best commentator in the business. But yeah, Nick Cohen’s good value.

Listening to music:

“I got stoned and I missed it, oh me oh my…”

Where did Sunny do that:

This from Sunny Hundal, Afghan war cheerleader.


I don’t recall a chorus of cheerleading. Point me to it.

29. organic cheeseboard

yesterday’s article is more or less lifted directly from Jack of Kent.

If the court condemns the CPS, I can guarantee that Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, will not fire or discipline the prosecutors involved. I doubt if he will even tell them they have undermined support for the anti-terrorist cause.

I think that support was undermined some time ago through numerous botched raids and shootings by the police. of course up to this point those have mostly been directed at asian-looking people. and up to this point nick cohen was in full support of anti-terror laws and their use.

I can’t side wiuth other here – i don’t agree with Nick. Yes, I agree that this is a ridiculous case where the police should not have acted as they have. But Cohen’s problem in recent years has been to expand outwards massively, to attack people who he always atacks. Thus the article fails at the end:

Labour must change the settled view of the majority of Britons that it is the party of politically correct jobsworths

Even if this were true – and I think Nick is relying pretty much exclusively on a few glances at the Mail, along with his own prejudices – how exactly is labour meant to do that?

and more to the point, what the hell does this case have to do with ‘political correctness’? police targets, maybe, though nick has no evidence that this was the reason for the arrest.

30. John Meredith

I know Nick Cohen is a demon and all that, but can anyone here link to anything he has previously said in defence of these laws before you whip yourselves up into too great a lather?

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