Britain's Parliament has been mired in a political scandal so damaging that Speaker Michael Martin resigned from office Tuesday. He's the first House speaker to step down in more than 300 years. Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party is dreading the next election -- which must be held before June 2010 -- as members of Parliament have been snared in a series of Daily Telegraph stories detailing how they filed bogus claims of up to $40,000 to cover their expenses needed to maintain two homes.
Brown's home secretary, Jacqui Smith, has been particularly embarrassed in the expenses scandal. The Daily Telegraph reported in March that her husband, Richard Timney, who works for Smith, submitted an expense bill to British taxpayers for some $15 to pay for his viewing of two adult pay-per-view movies, "Raw Meat 3" and "By Special Request." Smith later repaid the money.
As chickens know, when pecked, you peck another. Earlier this month, the home secretary released a list of 16 individuals whom the United Kingdom had banned from the country -- with six other names left unreleased. One of the 16 was San Francisco-based beyond-conservative radio-talk-show host Michael Savage. A press release announced, "Individuals banned from the U.K. for stirring up hatred have been named and shamed for the first time."
"Named and shamed" -- Smith should know how that feels. Now, I am no Michael Savage fan. Yes, he can be entertaining, but he is more of a loudmouth than a conservative thinker. He has a genius for taking an honest idea and barking it as if he had just been cut off in traffic. He talks in labels, not paragraphs.
But he presents no threat to the British people. And when Smith targeted Savage, she only made him stronger. Because there is nothing stronger in America than a victim with a live microphone. At an editorial board meeting Tuesday, British Ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald defended the Home Office policy. Unlike American law, he noted, British law strikes a "balance" that takes into consideration free speech and the greater good. He had read some of Savage's comments and considered them "extreme" and "inflammatory."
As a diplomat, Sheinwald was too polite to point out that as a sovereign nation, the United Kingdom is free to bar anyone from its borders. Indeed, governments have an obligation to defend the homeland from outsiders who advocate the overthrow of the government or violence against citizens.
The policy that spawned Smith's short list was announced in August 2005 -- after the infamous 7/7 London terrorist bombings that left 52 dead. In that spirit, Smith was right to bar Samir Kantar, a Hezbollah militant who served 30 years in prison for his part in the killing of an Israeli man and his 4-year-old daughter, and other dangerous extremists.
Savage simply is not in that league. He may offend some folk, but he does not draw blood. In 2008, the Brown government expanded the 2005 law to block the entry of those who would "stir up hatred within our society." There is a problem there: If the Brown government wants to keep out angry Americans, then the list isn't nearly long enough.
And there is no getting around the suspicion that a Labour pol decided to use the big club of government to bully a conservative Yank just because she could. Like the porn films, the act may have made the Smith household feel aroused, but it wasn't particularly helpful to the British public.