Why has liberal Britain deserted Derek?

Were it not for an upright law firm, a courageous whistle-blower would be left out in the cold

By Martin Bright, September 17, 2009

One man’s long and heroic struggle for justice has gone largely unreported. Derek Pasquill is a former Foreign Office civil servant who was responsible for a series of leaks in 2005 that revealed the full extent of the influence of the Muslim Council of Britain and other Islamist institutions within Whitehall. The documents he made public also exposed Foreign Office attempts to develop diplomatic back channels to the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s Islamist opposition, and details of ministerial knowledge of “extraordinary rendition”, the unlawful transfer of terrorist suspects for interrogation by the CIA.

Four years on, Pasquill is taking his old bosses to an employment tribunal to challenge their decision to sack him for blowing the whistle. But where is the campaign in his defence? Where are the petitions and letters to the papers from prominent lefties? Derek Pasquill was defending liberal enlightenment values against totalitarianism and the rise of the Islamic extreme right. Yet liberal Britain appears to have deserted him.

The government ultimately failed to prosecute Pasquill for breaching the Official Secrets Act after it turned out that senior FCO officials shared his concerns about the policy of “engagement for the sake of engagement” with political Islam. Partly as a result of his disclosures, government policy towards Islamist groups in Britain underwent a significant shift. At the newly created Department for Communities and Local Government, Ruth Kelly limited the influence of the MCB and tried to reach out to more moderate organisations and individuals, a policy accelerated by Hazel Blears.

Derek Pasquill has much to be proud of, but he has paid a heavy price. His legal fight has been made possible only by pro bono work carried out by his solicitors, Bindmans. For reasons known only to themselves, the left-liberal publications and “progressive” centre-right think tank that benefited from the disclosures have chosen not to help fund his tribunal case.

As someone who has always considered himself on the political left, I find the lack of solidarity for Derek Pasquill puzzling. Have we so lost our way that the cost of truth-telling in the public interest is quite this high?

Have we so lost our way that the cost of truth-telling is so high?

It is worth re-reading Michael Walzer’s influential 2002 Dissent essay, Can There Be a Decent Left? in the context of the Derek Pasquill case.

Writing in response to the terrible events of the previous September, Walzer argued that liberals and leftists had become so intoxicated by anti-Americanism and anti-colonialism that they failed to recognise the new totalitarianism of ultra-right-wing Islamism even when evidence of its murderous intent lay in the ruins of the Twin Towers.

He advocated a new approach: “The encounter with Islamic radicalism and other versions of politicised religion should help us understand that high among our interests are values: secular enlightenment, human rights, and democratic government. Left politics starts with the defence of these three.”

The questions raised by Walzer’s essay remain profound and disturbing. Liberals remain deeply confused about the proper moral response to totalitarianism.

But surely the least we can do is stand up for those who, like Derek Pasquill, have put their heads above the parapet in defence of enlightenment thought, human rights and democracy. Old-fashioned solidarity might be too much to hope for, but a little common decency would be a start.

Last updated: 2:22pm, September 17 2009