After a first week with Labour and the Conservatives (henceforth Labservatives) refusing to talk about civil liberties and human rights, both completely ignoring issues around the government’s authoritarian agenda, the Lib Dems have finally created an opening with the release of their manifesto:
Speaking to the Guardian, the Lib Dem leader said he was shocked by the lack of reference to civil liberties in the Labour manifesto, and highlighted his own plans to scrap the next generation of biometric passports, and its communication base.
He said: “It’s a measure of the authoritarian streak of the Labour party that it didn’t refer once to liberty in its own manifesto.
“Civil liberties and individual freedoms are part of the DNA of the Lib Dems. It makes a compete mockery of the claim by Gordon Brown that he can speak for progressive voters in other parties when his own party has turned its back on one of the cornerstones of progressive politics.
The manifesto, part of which has been seen by the Guardian, proposes to set up a “stop unit” inside the Cabinet Office responsible for preventing anti-libertarian legislation, including the creation of new criminal offences.
Now that really is a clear blue line between the parties. I fully accept that many outcomes of the authoritarian project have been accidental – the RIPA legislation for example hasn’t been used remotely as intended, and nor for that matter has Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, although it’s probably debatable whether either piece of legislation was ever necessary. Joined up thinking like this is what we were promised in 1997, but it never happened.
The Liberal Democrats claimed scrapping biometric passports could save £3bn over the course of a parliament, the first time the party has mentioned this saving. It also calls for regulation of closed-circuit television, measures to stop councils spying on people, and new guidelines to prevent unfair extraditions to the US.
The manifesto says the Lib Dems would stop children being fingerprinted at school without their parents’ permission and promises to restore the right to protest by reforming the Public Order Act to safeguard non-violent protest.
Restrictions would be introduced to narrow the scope of injunctions and there are proposals to protect free speech and investigative journalism.
Very nice. It’s something which was discussed last night at the Hostile Reconnaissance event. Grand principles are being brushed aside in the name of ‘security’, and it’s time particular protections such as these were itemised, codified and legislated for.
The party is in favour of reforms to the English and Welsh libel laws: corporations would have to show damage and prove malice or recklessness to mount a successful court challenge against journalists. The party also calls for a £10,000 cap on individual donations, down from its previous pledge to impose a £50,000 cap.
More like it yet again. Just what were Labour promising again?
At the manifesto launch on Wednesday, Clegg will promise to scrap control orders, which can use secret evidence to place people under house arrest, as well as reduce the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 14 days. The second-generation biometric passport, which includes fingerprints, is not due to be scrapped by the Tories, even though they do propose to drop the national identity register.
What’s clear here is that the Lib Dems are committed to rolling back the authoritarian agenda itself. The Tories are promising to make tweaks here and there and changes of focus, but the agenda itself under them would without question remain. These commitments give voters a reason to vote for them actively, rather than just voting against the other main parties. I wonder though what pressures they would find themselves under if they really were in government, given that (again as came out in the Hostile Reconnaissance event last night) the party is wedded to neoliberal economic policies? So much of Labour’s agenda has arisen from that reality, and I wonder what any Lib Dem’s views on this are.
But the Lib Dems will argue it is not necessary to spend billions of pounds on storing fingerprints in passports, and say Britain already has a type of biometric passport known as an e-passport, which stores 16 facial measurements (along with your name and passport number) in the chip at the back.
Clegg said he would also scrap the communications database for which companies would be paid to store information about everyone’s email and internet use, including storing data about what you do on social networking sites such as Facebook and online computer games.
It sure sounds good. Is it now incumbent for as many of us as possible to vote Lib Dem at any cost in order to express our feelings on this vitally important issue?
Read my liveblog of the Hostile Reconnaissance rally run by the London Photographers’ Branch of the NUJ against police abuse of anti-terror legislation.
Terror Laws, Civil Liberties & Press Freedom
13th of April, 7pm. Friends Meeting House, Euston.
With the General Election in full swing it is time to put civil liberties and press freedom centre stage in the election debates. Our right to work, our right to protest and dissent are increasingly under threat by the use and abuse of a raft of anti-terror legislation.
Professional and amateur photographers alike are being stopped routinely by police under Section 44 of the Terrorism act on grounds of conducting ‘Hostile Reconnaissance’ which has seen the rapid growth of the campaign group ‘I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist!‘.
The use of these laws has been challenged and ruled unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights. The filmmaker and NUJ member who is fighting the government appeal to the ruling next week, Pennie Quinton, will be speaking at the rally.
Mike Mansfield QC said in support of the rally:
The Government’s legislation has less to do with terrorism than with control and the suppression of opposition and truth. It has been recognized for some time by the authorities that agents of the state have too often been caught on camera committing unlawful acts: (Orgreave, Poll Tax, Fairford, Brighton, G20, climate camp). The power to confiscate the camera is therefore an essential tool for an oppressive regime.
How such a draconian measure, drafted in such wide ranging terms, got past our so called political scrutineers in the Commons beggars belief. Either they were subverted by the ‘fear factor’, diverted by expenses claims or overcome by sleep. Mind you, it’s the same lot who voted for the War in Iraq in the first place and who later believed security service assurances that the UK had not colluded in rendition and torture. Such an unquestioning and unaccountable bunch of Labour and Tory MPs needs to be booted out on May 6 and this iniquitous provision repealed
The London Photographers’ Branch of the National Union of Journalists, is proud to be hosting a pre-election rally Hostile Reconnaissance – Terror Laws, Civil Liberties & Press Freedom at 7pm on the 13th of April at Friends Meeting House in Euston.
The rally will be chaired by photographer Jess Hurd and we’ve got a top lineup of speakers who have dealt with the raft of terror laws that we face today:
- Jeremy Dear, General Secretary National Union of Journalists
- Paul Lewis, Guardian journalist & British Press Awards Reporter of the Year 2010
- Keith Ewing, Professor of Public Law at King’s College London & author of Bonfire of the Liberties
- Henry Porter, Observer columnist, author & British editor of Vanity Fair
- Chez Cotton, Head of Action Against the Police at Bindmans Solicitors & a co-ordinator of the Police Action Lawyers Group
- Marc Vallée, Photojournalist, investigative journalist and one of the organisers of the I’m A Photographer, Not a Terrorist! campaign group.
- Pennie Quinton, Filmmaker who won the ECHR case that ruled s44 is unlawful.
Opening the rally will be a film by Jason N Parkinson with highlights from the campaign.
Jonathan Warren 077939 40759
Jess Hurd 07713 151765