It’s a difficult one for me. Darren Johnson’s a nice guy, and an effective local councillor. I totally support a @RobinHood tax, building more social housing, a living wage, and the NHS not being run according to marketised principles. Yet the Lib Dems are offering the Freedom Bill and a proportional voting system (without which little else of value is likely to follow). So do I vote Tam Langley instead? It’s a difficult choice this election. I’d be delighted with either of them winning.
The New Labour minister Joan Ruddock MP sure believes it is for her:
“Comment is free … but facts are sacred”. Unfortunately the Lib Dems in Lewisham aren’t letting the facts of my voting record on Iraq get in the way of their wholly negative campaign.
Contrary to Max Calo’s assertion I did indeed vote on the crucial amendment, which if passed would have prevented the Labour government going to war in Iraq. Once this amendment was lost, nothing could be achieved in the subsequent vote. The Guardian, the Times and the BBC are all on the record as recording me as one of the “Labour rebels” and there was never a doubt about my consistent anti-war stance. As Calo himself admits, I never voted with the government, and it is standard parliamentary practice to abstain when negotiating in private with your own leadership in an attempt to get them to change their minds.
Perhaps Nick Clegg should be told that his Liberal Democrats in Lewisham are up to their old dirty tricks.
Max Calo’s response:
First of all thanks for replying, I’ll try to clarify the point I make and that I think is important and justified.
In the letter you sent to residents you stated:
?I have always acted with integrity and stuck to my principles ? voting against the government going to war in Iraq.?.
And I think we can agree you didn’t actually do this, because voting for a motion to delay action does not mean voting against the government going to war.
For everyone’s reference here’s the text of the proposed amendment you voted for:
- believes that the case for war against Iraq has not yet been established, especially given the absence of specific United Nations authorisation; but,
- in the event that hostilities do commence, pledges its total support for the British forces engaged in the Middle East, expresses its admiration for their courage, skill and devotion to duty, and hopes that their tasks will be swiftly concluded with minimal casualties on all sides.
When the amendment failed a large number of Labour MPs left, but an even larger number stayed and voted against.
I’m sure you agree that the stand taken by those Labour MPs that stayed on and displayed active dissent (including resigning from Government in some cases) was very principled and indeed commanded the admiration of many in the public.
Your public record I’m afraid is not so clear, and that’s why I don’t believe you’re entitled to make the claim you made in your letter. Your voting record on the war shows that you were absent in four out of 6 occasions, when you participated you voted in favour of amendments but never took part in the main vote.
You say that once the amendments failed then there was no hope of the main motion being rejected, still many thought that they needed to stay and register an open dissent on the main motions, and we do admire them for doing so.
It is also the case that a stronger dissent makes a weaker mandate, whether the vote is won or lost.
You say that in private you were negotiating in attempt to change the leadership’s mind, well, maybe you could have written that in your letter to Lewisham Central residents instead.
If you’re writing of your public record then you’re best advised to stick to the facts.
What people understand by reading your letter is what you wrote, and that’s what those that stayed on and took an open stand against the war did, not those that are now saying that they were negotiating in private.
Joan Ruddock is my MP. She is a vociferous supporter of ID cards, agreed with 90 days detention without charge, supports trial without a jury and control orders, and voted to ban protest around parliament. I seriously hope she gets beaten by either the Greens or the Lib Dems – this authoritarian nonsense simply has to stop.
I can’t figure out for the life of me how any conceivable coalition at the end of next week could work. After next Thursday, the Lib Dems should win about 110 seats, should become the major power broker in British politics, and then should become the junior coalition partner in a government with either the Tories or Labour Party. But how?
Option 1: Clegg sees a Cameron minority victory determining his constitionally mandated choice. The Tories move to accept a more proportional voting system (at least in rhetoric), and a blue/yellow coalition is formed. But would the Liberal Democrat party members allow it to remain?
Option 2: Clegg finds a Tory victory unpalatable, doesn’t believe they’ll accept a proportional voting system anyway, and refuses to work with Cameron. The Tories resolve to try a minority administration (and won’t last long).
Option 3: Labour does far better than expected and Clegg decides a red/yellow alliance would make most sense for a progressive government (most of the electorate would have voted for one after all). But if Labour does well how could they countenance his Freedom Bill and withdraw the authoritarian state they’ve spent so long building? Would Clegg have to drop it or would they have to accept Prime Minister Nick Clegg? Surely that’s out of the question, but wouldn’t the former option kill off the Lib Dems in only one parliament? Their consistent showing in the opinion polls is proving their policies are popular, so why go back on this level of popular support? And if Labour doesn’t actually win, how could Clegg work with them anyway?
Option 4: Clegg decides to try a coalition with a rump Labour Party after a Tory drubbing. But who could he work with? If David Miliband, how could he work with someone who to this day is trying to keep Britain’s involvement in extraordinary rendition and torture secret?
It’s incredibly hard to see Labour winning this election. It’s also very hard to see how, in practical terms, Labour could change leaders, hang on as a minority, and do a deal with the Lib Dems to change the voting system. But that’s the last hope left for progressive political change. It rests on calm calculation, tactical voting and cool heads.
How on earth that is going to happen? My guess of the outcome remains unchanged: a Conservative minority administration, but with the Lib Dems the party of rebellion. They’ll be able to point out the shortcomings in a Tory Party desperate to withdraw the Human Rights Act, to ally themselves with homophobes and anti-Semites and resume foxhunting. They’ll be able to point to Labour’s authoritarian state, with the party’s rejection of the working class’ interests and its abysmal human rights record. They wouldn’t get proportional representation in the short-term, but they’d be able to make the case for one in the time until the next general election, which would be long in coming.
The HateMail is in complete panic (and can’t stop lying):
A rattled Nick Clegg today sought to defend himself over his claim that the British people have a ‘more insidious cross to bear’ than Germany over World War II.
The Lib Dem leader attempted to laugh off criticism of his astonishing attack on our national pride – in which he said we suffered ‘delusions of grandeur’ and a ‘misplaced sense of superiority’ over having defeated the horrors of Nazism.
Campaigning ahead of tonight’s crucial second live TV showdown with party leaders, Mr Clegg said: ‘I must be the only politician who has gone from being Churchill to being a Nazi in under a week.’
He also came under fire today over donations made to his personal bank account, to which he responded: ‘I hope people won’t be frightened from trusting their instincts by doing something different this time. We have got a very exciting opportunity for real change in this country and I hope we will take it.’
The Murdoch high command can’t stop it:
Gosh, that’s pretty uncool, and may suggest that expensive suits at News International are rattled by Cleggmania, which could leave them out in the cold if the Tories fail to win on 6 May.
What seems to have upset them are ads that the Indy has been running along the lines of “Rupert Murdoch won’t decide this election – you will.” Brooks apparently rang Simon Kelner, the editor-in-chief and now chief executive of the Indy to complain that dog does not eat dog in Fleet Street.
Anyway, the Brooks-Murdoch posse turned up at the Indy’s HQ – now housed in the Mail’s London premises, the old Derry and Toms department store in Kensington High Street, got past security and appeared unannounced and uninvited on the editorial floor.
“They barged in and Kelner had to take them into an office where discussions took place. Rebekah was observed in gesticulating mode,” says my source. The incident was mentioned on Radio 4′s Today programme, where Trevor Kavanagh, a Sun guru, was found to be unbriefed about the whole thing.
The Sun isn’t pulling it off through censorship:
The Sun newspaper failed to publish a YouGov poll showing that voters fear a Liberal Democrat government less than a Conservative or Labour one.
The Liberal Democrats accused the newspaper, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, of suppressing the finding. The paper, which endorsed Labour in the past three elections, declared its support for David Cameron during the Labour Party’s annual conference last October. Like other Tory-supporting papers, it has turned its fire on Nick Clegg over his policies, pro-European statements and expenses claims since he won last week’s first televised leaders’ debate.
YouGov also found that if people thought Mr Clegg’s party had a significant chance of winning the election, it would win 49 per cent of the votes, with the Tories winning 25 per cent and Labour just 19 per cent. One in four people Labour and one in six Tory supporters say they would switch to the Liberal Democrats in these circumstances. The party would be ahead among both men and women, in every age and social group, and in every region. On a uniform swing across Britain, that would give the Liberal Democrats 548 MPs, Labour 41 and the Tories 25.
Even the tactics Craig Murray alleges YouGov has employed to smear Clegg aren’t working. And it’s all a reminder of a change which I think is playing a major part in determining the outcome of this election, namely that these papers used to determine people’s opinions, and no longer do. Political commentators aren’t getting listened to, party political broadcasts and press conferences are getting ignored; the whole process of opinion formation has completely changed. Long-term departure from print media has certainly played a part in this, but for all the talk of an election determined by the Internet, Twitter and Facebook and other social media don’t yet have that sort of power. They are however keeping the narrative of Clegg’s sudden rise (and its desirability) visible and a story in itself.
Also whilst the usual pundits are saying Clegg’s ‘upstart’ narrative is accidental, in truth it seems to have arisen from a confluence of factors which have been bubbling up in political life for some time now, the principal one being that the public now detests politics and politicians alike. They may not know how they want to express it, but Clegg has shrewdly made a strong attempt to do so for them in the first two debates. Could he have done that without the continuing, massive popularity of his shadow chancellor Vince Cable? Probably not – Cable has been legitimising the Liberal Democrats for some time. But conventional wisdom has also long suggested that the British public was eurosceptic, waswedded to nuclear power and nuclear weapons and madly in love with American power; Clegg in the last fortnight has challenged that entire paradigm and has astonishingly been increasingly admired for it. I suspect if he directly attacked the Iraq War (and Afghanistan) in the manner of Charles Kennedy he’d rise even more.
With Cameron giving the impression he wants power because he believes he’s due it, and New Labour now only being a power winning-and-retaining machine, Clegg is far from an ‘upstart’ – he has become the ‘insurgent’, representing tool to move past public’s loathing for the Way Things Were. The first debate allowed him to rise over the top of the biased, distorting right wing press and communicate directly and spin-free with the electorate. Maybe the electorate has been waiting for the chance to finish the hated New Labour (and its Tory copycat) off, and has seen him as a unique historical opportunity to do so. Cameron’s director of communications Andy Coulson may have already realised this too late – the flip-flopping between dog-whistle politics and the failing ‘Big Society’ message suggests he does, but Mandelson has also been caught flat footed. Johann Hari says:
Rattled, the right-wing press now demands Cameron start publicly thumping the table and articulating the agenda he whispers to them behind closed doors, and can be uncovered in his policy documents: big cuts in public spending, big tax cuts for the rich. But Cameron sees the polling and the focus groups, and he knows the public loathe his real agenda. That’s why his performances in this campaign are so stilted. Once Cameron is forced to address us directly, without being bigged-up by the Murdochracy he has promised to feed and fatten, he withers under the weight of his own deception.
For a moment, the media demonisation of the liberal-left was switched off in favour of equal time and open access – and it revolutionised our politics. If this happened day in, day out, how would our national conversation change?
The conversation has begun to change, and Murdoch, Dacre & Desmond are being kept out of it. Let’s keep it that way.
Simon Heffer sure believes so:
I do not yet despair of the Tories being the largest party on May 7. Whether they would be able to form a government is quite another matter. Whether they deserve to be able to form one is another still. Perhaps the meltdown at Tory HQ that we are told is under way, with talk beginning about who or what might come next, is an indication that a moral defeat has already taken place. We hear little about the “big idea” of the “big society”, which despite the efforts of propagandists died almost the second it left the womb. The public knows it is inadequate: the big idea it wants is about securing prosperity again, and the Tories are nowhere near a credible plan for that.
I wrote about Mr Cameron in November 2005, before he became leader, warning of the dangers of his dislike of policy, his obsession with style, his flexibility of principle, his absence of belief. “He is a PR spiv,” the piece concluded. “It is not enough.” Should he enter No 10 with a clear mandate, he will be justified in saying that the public thought there was more to him, and his image-driven project, than met the eye. However, his weaknesses have been cruelly exposed not by the rise of Nick Clegg, but by his failure to fight it adequately. For you cannot win a war without weapons, and Mr Cameron chose to disarm years ago.
It’s an analysis which makes sense of what happened in the first leaders debate last week. Clegg provided the style and the substance, leaving Cameron looking as hollow as he actually is. With Cameron having failed even to unite the right wing in Britain, and the opinion polls showing the left lining up very quickly behind Clegg, it’s no wonder the Tories’ campaign has started to panic. Cameron has relied almost entirely on rebranding the party as ‘no-longer-nasty’, but now we’re in the run-up to the election he’s finding a) they really are nasty and won’t be denied and b) he needs policies which actually have traction with the large swathe of the country utterly disillusioned with New Labour. He doesn’t have them, and it’ll be interesting to see whether the next two debates can continue to demonstrate that.
Some might say David Cameron is running scared of Nick Clegg. It sure seems he’s trying to impersonate him the whole time now. Flip flopping from the left to the far right and back again like this would have him floundering in an American election – is that on the cards in the next fortnight? In the meantime enjoy this hilarious game…
(via Dave Schneider)
But according to European law they do:
The Council of Europe has urged the UK government to hurry up and change the law on prisoner voting rights. As things stand, the UK’s 84,073 strong prison population (all avowed Conservative voters, according to reports) are barred from voting in elections under section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983.
In March 2004, however, in the case of Hirst v. United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) unanimously ruled that the maintenance of an absolute bar on convicted prisoners voting was in breach of Article 3 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to free and fair elections.
The case was brought by John Hirst, a prisoner who, in 1980, had been sentenced to a term of discretionary life imprisonment after pleading guilty to manslaughter. The UK Government unsuccessfully appealed the decision before the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR.
Whether you agree with it or not, the case was won under this protocol, to which the UK is signed:
The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.
So it really makes you wonder where Roger Godsiff gets off putting together an election leaflet like that, basically saying ‘Lib Dems Love Paedophiles and Murderers’ which couldn’t be less true. Godsiff meanwhile had the nerve to defend the leaflet:
Mr Godsiff defended the campaign tactic, saying the Lib Dems’ policy on the issue was “black and white” but they were not making that clear to voters.
“I agree that the imagery is strong but I do not accept that it is any stronger than anything that has been put out by my opponents,” Mr Godsiff told the BBC.
“The leaflet has been distributed in certain areas but it does not contain anything that is factually incorrect. I have put out some negative campaigning when my opponents do not tell the electorate what their position is.
“It is right and proper to ask whether they support or do not support whether people convicted of serious crimes can vote. I have invited other candidates to make their position clear….I have made my position clear.”
Labour has withdrawn the leaflet. The Liberal Democrats meanwhile describe their position on the European Court’s ruling as:
in future, [they said] judges should be given discretion to decide, upon sentencing, whether to strip someone of the vote, depending on the length of sentence and the nature of the crime.
Once a new system was in place, they said existing prisoners should be given the right to launch an appeal to try and secure the vote.
However, they insisted that those guilty of the most serious crime should never be able to do this.
Why this policy should be so offensive to Godsiff is a mystery, unless the leaflet really is a reflection of how terrified the party now is of the Liberal Democrats. I have to say I agree with the Court’s ruling, and not with the Lib Dems on this. The Court:
found no evidence to support the claim that disenfranchisement deterred crime and considered that the imposition of a blanket punishment on all prisoners regardless of their crime or individual circumstances indicated no rational link between the punishment and the offender.
The ECtHR also maintained that:
Removal of the vote in fact runs counter to the rehabilitation of the offender as a lawabiding member of the community and undermines the authority of the law as derived from a legislature which the community as a whole votes into power.
I agree with those points. I see no reason why any prisoner should ever be denied the vote. Reading the rest of the link above it’s revealing that the government is doing everything in its power not to abide by the Court’s ruling. Well done yet again to New Labour for sticking to its utter contempt for human rights. This general election will not be run in compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights – that’s what’s really offensive.
In a sure sign that the @Labservative parties are melting down in blind panic at the sudden rise of the Lib Dems, the dirty tricks may have started to try to cripple what has suddenly become the most popular party in the country. Former British Ambassador Craig Murray noticed this comment:
Just done a YouGov, Mostly about Clegg & LDHere was one of the question“Nick Cleggs says the other parties are to blame for the MP scandals, he has taken money from a criminal on the run, many of his MPs have been found guilty of breaking the rules and his own party issued guidance on how to fiddle the expenses system?”
I’d say that was fairly direct!
There were some 17 other questions re the LD
by sealo0 April 18th, 2010 at 10:33 am
It turns out that questions were asked before the respondent was asked about their voting intentions. Of course the results will reflect the bias inherent in the earlier questions. According to Murray:
Anthony Wells of YouGov (known henceforth as YouGove) admits YouGov asking these “questions, but claims the voting intention question ought to have been asked first. He also points out that the antiLib Dem questions were “Not for publication”.I bet they bloody weren’t.
Yet somehow they made it into the polling process itself. Clearly from the second link above this poll hasn’t affected the Lib Dem surge, but the question remains whether this stunt was put together by YouGov itself to please News International, if it was ordered by Murdoch or if something else happened. Liberal Democrat Voice opines The Sun was behind this – are they right, and if so will they succeed?
The former editor of The Sun explains the bias the established press has against the Lib Dems and offers yet another very good reason indeed for voting Lib Dem:
Make no mistake, if the Liberal Democrats actually won the election – or held the balance of power – it would be the first time in decades that Murdoch was locked out of British politics. In so many ways, a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote against Murdoch and the media elite.
While it would be wrong to say the Lib Dems were banned from Murdoch’s papers (indeed, the Times has a good record in this area), I would say from personal experience that they are often banned – except where the news is critical. They are the invisible party, purposely edged off the paper’s pages and ignored. But it is worse than that, because it is not just the Murdoch press that is guilty of this. The fact is that much of the print press in this country is entirely partisan and always has been. All proprietors and editors are part of the “great game”. The trick is to ally yourself with the winner and win influence or at least the ear of the prime minister.
It’s a searing indictment by David Yelland of the press’ historical abuse of the electoral process. And it proves yet again how fundamentally important the first leaders’ debate was in breaking the historical strangehold the tabloid press has had over the electorate’s engagement in politics. The initial fear was of a presidentialisation of British politics, which remains a concern, but if the net effect of these three programmes turns out to be an unprecedented awareness for an unprecedented number of voters of the real choices open to them, then Murdoch’s strangehold in particular may finally get broken. Conventional wisdom has been electoral and constitutional reform were not political talking points, even after the expenses scandal. Conventional wisdom has also been that the government’s authoritarian agenda couldn’t be rolled back – where, after all, would the tipping point come? We may be very close indeed.
Change will only come by voting Lib Dem. Do it on 6th May.
“Of course both of the old parties are going to lash out and claim that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is somehow a vote for another party.”
He added: “We know – again, fact – that an increasing number of people over the last few days… we don’t know what is going to happen in the future, but seem to be open to the idea, in growing numbers, of doing something very different.
“To short-circuit that process and then repeat this tired old claim that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for another party, misses, in my view, the blindingly obvious which says that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is exactly what is says on the tin – it is a vote for the Liberal Democrats.
“It is a vote for our policy on fairer taxes, on schools, on a new approach to the economy on cleaning up politics, nothing more, nothing less.”
This is pretty funny, but of course the first debate has so far proven to be a game-changer for the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg seems to have tapped into a deep resentment towards the last parliament – the worst in living memory – and towards politics in general, and as a result is riding at the top of some opinion polls. Time will tell what the effect of that will be, but I find it enormously exciting – if the Lib Dems hold the balance of power in 2 1/2 weeks then the rollback of the government’s authoritarian project, electoral reform and constitutional change get thrown to the top of the political agenda. Clegg may yet provide the most important jolt to British politics in generations, and my fingers remain tightly crossed. Interestingly Labour have now started codedly to woo Clegg:
Lord Mandelson, who heads Labour’s campaign, criticised some Liberal Democrat policies but made clear that a coalition government would not be a disaster. It is the first time a senior Labour figure has spoken about a Lib-Lab coalition, in which Liberal Democrats would sit in a Brown Cabinet. In a memo to Labour members, Lord Mandelson said: “I am not against coalition government in principle and for Britain, anything would be better than a Cameron-Osborne government.”
The Secretary of State for Business said a two-party government would not be so stable without a “big unifying challenge”. He named that as constitutional change, urging Liberal Democrat supporters in 100 or so Labour-Tory marginal seats to vote Labour to secure reform of the voting system for Westminster. He predicted, however, that the voters would turn away from their current “flirtation” with Mr Clegg.
I think some will turn away from Clegg, as people reach for what they know when they reach the ballot box. But I’ve been saying for a long time now that the two main parties have completely underestimated the electorate’s hatred for politics as usual, and to offer only that at this general election could yet prove fatal for either of them.
In his first masterstroke after his enormous success in the first leaders debate, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has promised to repeal the Digital Economy Act if elected:
“We did our best to prevent the Digital Economy Bill being rushed through at the last moment. It badly needed more debate and amendment, and we are extremely worried that it will now lead to completely innocent people having their internet connections cut off,” said Clegg.
“It was far too heavily weighted in favour of the big corporations and those who are worried about too much information becoming available. It badly needs to be repealed, and the issues revisited.”
And the Lib Dems immediately aim for the so-far ignored youth vote. Clegg is putting his money where his mouth is on freedom, missing nothing out that I know of. I’m increasingly convinced, particularly with the influence rapidly heading his way, that it’s vital that those of us who care about reversing the authoritarian agenda so loved by Labour must vote Lib Dem. Right principles, right priorities and credible, focused leadership: I’m sure impressed.
My question is whether that even matters, if the big breakthrough needed for constitutional change, parliamentary reform and a rollback of the authoritarian project is achieved. Peter McHugh, former director of programmes at GMTV disagrees:
It was Question Time without the fire and brimstone.
And as for the show, News at Ten also managed to tell us that the debate was exciting and that we learnt lots from the 90 minutes. News at Ten told us that in three minutes, but left out the 87 minutes of irrelevance around it.
One thing for me is certain – somebody has got to look at the rules, because this programme was as sterile as the set on Holby City.
You couldn’t say for certain the audience were in the same studio. It was 40 minutes before David got in a mention about his wife’s pregnancy, but it was 9.17pm before he finally showed emotion and Gordon displayed the rictus grin.
Was it style over substance then?
Hmm. That certainly was the risk – the presidentialisation of British politics isn’t actually desirable after all. I haven’t yet watched it, but most of the accounts I heard suggested that Clegg walked it. With that being true, this result is an absolute bombshell:
johnrentoul ComRes/ITV: CON 36 (-3), LDEM 35 (+14), LAB 24 (-3) But note polling among 4,000 people who watched the debate with view to being asked opn
The rider underneath is extremely important but this result has still already acted as a nuclear explosion underneath a campaign which hadn’t fired even the parties’ bases up. It’s true that the first debate didn’t lead to any broader a look at each parties’ policies, that much of the change of opinion appears to be based on non-political, cosmetic issues. But what if this result were even partially replicated across the board? The two ‘big’ parties would finally start having to look at what was driving ‘their’ voters to the Lib Dems, and said constitutional change, parliamentary reform and rollback of the authoritarian project might actually become critical election issues. Particularly so when:
That is so far the most important conclusion to be drawn either from today’s first polling result or last night’s snap polls. First-past-the-post might finally be proven to the majority not to reflect their views fairly. Even if were the only outcome from the first debate, it would have to go down as an unqualified success. Perhaps the argument of style over substance is too simplistic after all.
Astonishingly the long arm of the #DEAct has affected the digital aftermath of the #leadersdebate last night on ITV1:
ITV has tonight blocked anyone from uploading footage from the Leaders debates to YouTube because it may violate their own copyright.
Instead, viewers are forced to watch clips from ITV’s own archive on YouTube. Even short short clips of several seconds have been taken off.
I’d be interested in someone putting a flattering clip from last night up of Gordon Brown, and then see if material which would be beneficial to the Prime Minister (and to democracy in general) is still banned on ‘copyright’ grounds. The irony would be overwhelming – truly hoist to his own petard.
I didn’t watch it last night, but of course the entire debate is available above. What were your thoughts on the evening’s proceedings? Appalled by the presidentialisation of British politics? Thrilled at Clegg’s performance, which may yet transform the entire contest?
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?