Ah Secret Courts or to be more formal The Justice and Security Bill. It is legislation that no-one will talk about on the doorstep. No-one. People will talk about many national issues but whether in certain circumstances evidence can be heard in secret is not one of them. Equal marriage is something most people said was a waste of time and even that is 100x more likely to be a topic that fires up the average voter. They care about many things but secret courts is not one.
Yet the fact is for liberals it is vastly important and the terms ‘National Security’ and ‘Terrorism’ are in essence buzz words to defend anything. If a political party wanted to say that they wanted to close all borders and used ‘anti-terror’ as their reasoning it would work to a far larger degree than saying ‘we don’t like those damn foreigners’. George Bush won an election in 2004 not just because John Kerry was an awful candidate but because he scared the electorate. People believed that if tough legislation wasn’t in place then terrorists would blow them up and eat their offspring – so anyone who wasn’t a hard right-liner was opening the door for this to happen. So I’ve always been rather dubious when any politician ever tries to stats that anti-terror legislation is a good enough reason to ignore civil liberties.
I heard Ken Clarke say in the House of Commons during the debate on this bill, ‘I believe that British judges are the best in the world’ as that was an important issue. He is implying that because they are the best that they’ll only ever allow evidence is private if if was indeed in the interests of national security. The issue is if the secret services had their way every piece of evidence they give would be in private. They don’t want to ever put one of their men or women on the stand. The term ‘National Security’ doesn’t automatically actually equate to genuine ‘National Security’ issues.
Now I think it is well known that I like Nick Clegg. I like Nick Clegg a lot. I think he is a very intelligent man and believe that he has genuine liberalism running through his veins. Personally I would go as far to say that if Nick Clegg had no advisers he’d probably be doing a far better job than he is. The problem is that the civil service and advisers often don’t think about what the party Nick Clegg represents stands for but more about what is best and right for them.
The coalition agreement is a framework for the 2010-2015 government and not a comprehensive guide to what the government will do. Equal marriage as we all know was not specifically in the coalition agreement and when that got brought to the table it pissed off a lot of Tories and Lib Dems rejoiced. Well in a way this is payback and this is not a Lib Dem agenda at all (although I’m unsure why it would be a Tory one either) basically it opens the door further to corruption and it potentially puts people – defendants – in a position where they have no public right to reply and the general public will not have access to the full facts of a case. Surely a pretty scary scenario for all of us?
I want to go back a week and look at Zadok Day quitting the party as he felt at times all we care about is votes and not about showing off our liberalism. If you speak to the younger generation – those who aren’t carrying the scars of either the world wars or the cold war then you’ll find people who are more open minded regarding civil liberties. That isn’t an all encompassing thing – there are plenty of people who lived through those instances who are big on civil liberties and plenty who did not who don’t give a stuff – but I think it is fair to say when you have never lived in a world where you genuinely feared bombers or nuclear war then you have a slightly different outlook.
Now these people care about liberal issues – and if civil liberties isn’t a liberal issue then I’m the perfect new cast member for TOWIE (for those who don’t know I don’t drink, don’t go out to clubs and my main passion in life is not ‘having a good time’). This is what I think most liberals would see as a red-line issue. What is the point on being in government if you can’t stop illiberal laws making it on to the statute book? It is a pretty good question to ask.
This bill is clearly better than the first draft but that doesn’t mean it should go through and we should pat ourselves on the back about it. Heck when I write my first novel I’m sure it’ll get crucified but a few cosmetic changes may not be enough to make it worthwhile to actually publish. If it’s shit then it will only ever sit on my hard-drive taunting me over my lack of story-telling abilities. Basically what I’m saying is this bill never had to go through. The Lib Dems could have all voted it down and then if a few members of the opposition voted with the Conservative Party and it still became law then we could hold up our heads and say we are the party of civil liberties no matter what. For activists, members and those with a general liberal viewpoint this would have been respected.
Instead members are looking at themselves and thinking ‘can we really call ourselves the party of civil liberties when we do something so illiberal and worst of all – unneeded?’ I can’t answer that but I can say that Nick – in my opinion – played this one badly. Very badly. Members in general aren’t easy about coalition. Many have left because of it but many others have stayed because it is better to have some influence than none at all. However when it comes to issues that are so core to the party – and have no doubt that any civil liberties issue is core then to basically say we made a bad bill better isn’t good enough.
The members spoke. Well I should start that again. The member shouted, hooted and hollered that they didn’t want any part of this. Now I know we the grass roots don’t have the full story about why these powers are deemed necessary but if there are real reasons behind it then don’t just hide behind the ‘National Security’ or ‘Anti-Terror’ bullshit. Gives us real reasons. Give us facts. Give us figures. Oh wait you can’t in the interests of national security…
Look I know the party is having to grow up and face the real issues instead of living in our Utopian idealistic minds but if we are going to do something that is – on the face of it – so illiberal then you have to tell us why. The fact is you haven’t and now we all feel let down.
Imagine this scenario. The Lib Dems win Eastleigh on the Thursday, vote down Secret Courts on the Monday and have Spring Conference on the Friday-Sunday. Imagine the good feeling that would be pouring through our veins now. The grass roots would be energised and full of passion that the party can still win, can still look ourselves in the mirror and say that we are doing exactly what we say on the tin and we can stop bad bills in the House of Commons.
We all like winning. However do we really want to win at all costs, certainly if the cost is one of our core values? (I won’t say souls because I think that would be too far). I’d prefer to lose with pride and honour than win but not live up to our billing.
Whilst it might not make waves on the doorstep – The Justice and Security Bill has made waves amongst liberals – and not in a good way. The Lib Dems do stand for something and one of those things is the protection of civil liberties. Just because leadership have failed us on this occasion it doesn’t stop the notion. If I had a diretc line to the powers that be I’d tell them one thing – do whatever you feel you need to do – but if you do something that goes directly against the will of the party and the notion of liberalism you better give us a full and comprehensive reason why you did so – and in this situation you failed to do that.
This could have been a huge game changer for the party these past ten days. Instead it has been a deflating experience. Start listening to members and not civil servants and advisers. That is something for all Lib Dem MPs to take to heart. You may have been elected to serve but if you don’t listen to your heart and the people who work for – and support you – then you’ll end up lonely and not an MP.
As much as I’m crushing Nick here (and rightly so) 49 other MPs did not vote against the bill (although a handful were away from the HoC for legitimate reasons). So it isn’t just Nick but he is the head honcho. Nick – we are all friends in the party (actually that is a lie but lets pretend…for now) – Nick – we are all friends and you can tell us stuff. Tell us why you backed this illiberal bill and if you convince us that it was the right thing to do we’ll understand. The problem is there was no good reason and it wasn’t needed was it? You can’t defend it without using buzzwords. Get back to your roots and don’t let those non liberals scare you into thinking this is a good idea. You have a great brain and it might be an idea to use it and not ignore it at times…
Disappointed. Still a Lib Dem.
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