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?
This is what is known on t’internet as a #fail. A future built on Green and digital industries? Vestas anyone? Digital Economy Bill? More police on the beat, yet less accountable than ever before, and more frequently a law unto themselves. Voicing opinions more than once every five years? Why then such strident attacks on protest and photographers; why ignore mass protests like the campaign against the Digital Economy Bill? If people’s opinions really are that important why kick the referendum on voting reform into touch? And where’s a fully elected Senate to replace the House of Lords? Do these people think we’re idiots?!
If by some miracle New Labour manages to get re-elected again based on this, we’re going to Hell sooner than I’d imagined…