Post-Blair/Brown Labour hasn’t yet started to define itself coherently, and there were initial fears that new Shadow Home Secretary Ed Balls would use his new (and unlikely) position to attack the ConDems from the right on civil liberties, but he’s hinting the opposite:
Mr Balls, in his first newspaper interview since being appointed shadow home secretary, admitted Labour’s policies under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which led to failed attempts to get Parliament to pass laws to permit suspects to be detained without charge for 90 and 42 days, had been a mistake.“Even 42 days was a step too far,” he said.“Our reputation as a party which protected liberty as well as security suffered as a result.“Our approach should always be that if the evidence shows we can go down from 28 days without impeding the police and security services from doing their jobs, then we ought to do it.”
“They are such exceptional measures that in an ideal world of course we would want to manage without them.”Labour would be prepared to consider alternative methods, such as a combination of covert surveillance and travel restrictions, he added.His comments come at a tricky time for Labour, with the party gripped by renewed in-fighting during the two-week paternity leave taken by party leader, Ed Miliband.Mr Balls said: “I’m quite clear we must always strike a balance between protecting our country from the risks of terrorist attacks on the one hand, and preserving our democratic freedoms and fundamental liberties on the other: it should never be a case of one or the other.”
Balls was also on The Andrew Marr Show this morning, where he fleshed out his position. He reaffirmed his support for a 14-day limit but warned that the coalition was “way too” liberal on CCTV and the DNA database.
Guy Aitchison suggests that now the new Shadow Cabinet has been announced, there remains serious cause for concern about the post-Blair/Brown Labour Party on the civil liberties front:
Balls has been given the shadow home secretary role, shadowing Theresa May. As the man responsible for the dreadful vetting and barring scheme as children’s minister (now mercifully killed off by the coalition) he has always struck me as one of those authoritarian wannabe “hard-men” at the top of New Labour. His voting record shows he was a supporter of ID cards, 90 days detention, and all the rest of the last government’s draconian anti-terror laws and his urge will be to tack to the right on immigration, as he did during his leadership campaign.
Given the pitiful absence of liberals in the mix, though, we may just have to be grateful that the role didn’t fall to Alan Johnson who goaded the Coalition back in June for being “obsessed” with civil liberties, accusing it of being the “political wing of Liberty”. And there are some small, and surprising, glimmers of liberalism from Balls who, as the Guardian’s Alan Travis pointed out to me on Twitter, is against ASBOs and for a welfare approach to youth justice.
I haven’t seen any redeeming qualities about the ‘new’ (reshuffled) gathering of unreformed civil liberties deniers. And then there’s Phil Woolas, who George Eaton is far more than just ‘concerned’ about:
Having run one of the most disgraceful election campaigns in recent history, Woolas is currently fighting an attempt to have his victory overturned by his Lib Dem opponent on the grounds of “corrupt practices”. He has consistently denied breaking electoral law to secure his seat and said it would have been “political suicide” to do so.
Below is the demagogic leaflet published by Woolas’s campaign, which, according to his defeated opponent, Elwyn Watkins, suggested that the Lib Dems were courting support from Islamist extremists.The text reads:
Extremists are trying to hijack this election. They want you to vote Lib Dem to punish Phil for being strong on immigration. The Lib Dems plan to give hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants the right to stay. It is up to you? Do you want the extremists to win?
Legal documents submitted to the High Court argue that there was a calculated attempt by the Woolas campaign to whip up racial tensions in a bid to get the “white vote” behind him.
An email by Woolas’s election agent, Joseph Fitzpatrick, to the candidate declared: “we need … to explain to the white community how the Asians will take him out … If we don’t get the white vote angry he’s gone.” Another from Fitzpatrick to Steve Green, the MP’s campaign adviser, said: “we need to go strong on the militant Moslem (sic) angle” and proposed the headline “Militant Moslems (sic) target Woolas.”
A verdict on the case is expected on 5 November and defeat for Woolas would see him expelled from Parliament and a by-election held in the highly marginal seat of Oldham East and Saddleworth. Regardless of the morality of his appointment, the pragmatic case against appointing an MP currently subject to a court action is clear. The court may yet find in Woolas’s favour, but his presence on Labour’s frontbench is hard to see as anything but a serious mistake.
On the face of it Ed Miliband’s rise as Labour leader suggested lessons had been learned. He attacked the Blair regime for having gone to war in Iraq, he said he understood there had been a problem with New Labour’s approach to civil liberties, and repeatedly said he ‘got’ people’s fundamental issues with New Labour’s instinct to control and bully. His appointments though seem to show a different side to him – there was briefly a rumour that Andy Burnham had been offered the Shadow Home Secretary role which would really have been catastrophic – one which suggests that he may have the right instincts personally, but is prepared cravenly to give in to the authoritarian tendencies still prevailing in his parliamentary party. If, as expected, Labour attacks the ConDem coalition on civil liberities from the Right, the Labour Party will remain unelectable.
Maybe it’s because they’ve noticed their leader turns a blind eye to casual homophobia by his MEPs. Maybe it’s because they’ve noticed their Shadow Home Secretary doesn’t understand that gay equality legislation applies to all businesses, even the ones run by their supporters. But a new Tory parliamentary candidate has followed on from Chris Grayling in suggesting that the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 shouldn’t necessarily apply to everyone:
Today, Andrew Bridgen, who is standing in North West Leicestershire, said he had “considerable sympathy” with B&B owners. He was speaking after Mr Grayling made a visit to the marginal constituency to help canvass votes. Mr Bridgen told the Leicestershire Mercury: “At the end of the day our policy is, we voted for the Equality Bill and as far as people who run a business, they have to offer the same services to everyone. “But I do have sympathy with someone who is opening up their own home to a guest.” He continued: “A public house has the right to refuse a customer and they don’t have to give a reason, so I have considerable sympathy for B&B owners in this case. “It’s a grey area, but perhaps the size of the establishment could separate the difference between opening your home to paying guests and a business.”
It’s not a gray area, and perhaps the size of the establishment has nothing to do with it. A pub does indeed have the right to refuse a customer without having to give a reason, but they cannot refuse them because they are gay; the same is true for B&B owners. As in the case of Grayling he’s either an idiot or is using the language of equality to mask deep-rooted homophobia. Grayling meanwhile has issued an ‘apology’ for his comments:
Until today, Grayling had been conspicuous in his silence. In the radio interview [on BBC Radio 5 Live], he said: “I am sorry if what I said gave the wrong impression, I certainly didn’t intend to offend anyone…I voted for gay rights, I voted for this particular measure [the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007].”
The ‘wrong impression’? Just what sort of impression was he trying to give?! Even if what he says is true, it’s unfathomable to think that the Shadow Cabinet is unaware of what effect their tolerance of casual homophobia or homophobic ideas has on those who support them or answer to them. Voting for gay rights is commendable but unless it’s supported with a change in attitudes it’s an empty gesture.
David Cameron doesn’t understand that if he supports gay rights he can’t be content with his MEPs not supporting them. Chris Grayling doesn’t understand that B&B owners can’t be allowed to turn gay visitors away any more than hotels can. It turns out that even gay Tories can’t stomach this two-faced cynicism:
Anastasia Beaumont-Bott, the first chairman of the LGBTory group, said she felt guilty for having told gay voters to back the Tories in the past after Chris Grayling, the shadow Home Secretary, said he believed bed and breakfast owners should have the right to ban gay couples from staying in their property. She called on the Tory leader to dismiss Mr Grayling. So far, Mr Cameron has refused to take any action against him.
“I feel guilty because as a gay woman affected by LGBT rights I am on record saying you should vote Conservative, and I want to reverse that,” she said. “I want to go on record to say don’t vote Conservative. I’d go as far to say that I’ll vote Labour at this general election.” The endorsement for Labour from Ms Beaumont-Bott, 20, will be an embarrassment for the Tories. She had been picked out as one of the faces of Mr Cameron’s young, modern Conservatives for her work in promoting gay rights within the party.
The government has for months ignored the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) ruling that its policy of indefinite retention of the DNA of people not convicted of a crime was illegal. Home Secretary Alan Johnson today played further mischief with the human rights of hundreds and thousands of entirely innocent people, purely for partisan political advantage in the pre-general election ‘wash up’ period:
The Conservatives have dropped their opposition to the government’s crime and security bill, including its controversial provisions to allow the police to retain the DNA profiles of innocent people for up to six years.
Instead of blocking the bill, the shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, made a fresh commitment that the Tories would bring in early legislation to ensure the DNA profiles of innocent people arrested for minor offences would not be retained on the national police DNA database.
“We will not seek to block this bill because the indefinite retention of innocent people’s DNA is unacceptable and has been ruled illegal,” said Grayling.He added that on taking office the Conservatives would also change the official guidance to the police, to give people the automatic right to have their DNA withdrawn from the database if have been wrongly accused of a minor crime.The decision follows a threat by the home secretary, Alan Johnson, to ditch the DNA provisions of the crime and security bill entirely, unless the Conservatives dropped their opposition to keeping profiles of innocent people on the database for up to six years.
Johnson said this morning he would pull all provisions from the amendment bill today if the Tories refuse to assent to the government’s plans. The bill is destined for this afternoon’s wash-up session to complete the government’s legislative programme ahead of the dissolution of parliament for the election.
Johnson told Sky News: “This is a basic example of how they [the Tories] talk tough on crime but act soft.”
I don’t normally use strong language on this blog, but what a cynical bastard the Home Secretary is. He’d rather play politics with one of the most important human rights issues in Britain today, and keep the country in breach of the Court’s ruling, instead of ensuring there was a system of appeal for people even to argue for their removal from the database. Yet more undemocratic game playing in the ‘wash up’ period by a government which has presided over the most out-of-touch, corrupt and inept parliament in living memory. The right to privacy and the presumption of innocence are commodities too precious to use as electioneering bargaining chips. When will this abuse end?
David Cameron didn’t seem to understand about gay rights the other week. Now his putative Home Secretary Chris Grayling seems not to understand either:
In a recording of the meeting of the Centre for Policy Studies, obtained by the Observer, Grayling makes clear he has always believed that those who run B&Bs should be free to turn away guests.
“I think we need to allow people to have their own consciences,” he said. “I personally always took the view that, if you look at the case of should a Christian hotel owner have the right to exclude a gay couple from a hotel, I took the view that if it’s a question of somebody who’s doing a B&B in their own home, that individual should have the right to decide who does and who doesn’t come into their own home.”
He draws a distinction, however, with hotels, which he says should admit gay couples. “If they are running a hotel on the high street, I really don’t think that it is right in this day and age that a gay couple should walk into a hotel and be turned away because they are a gay couple, and I think that is where the dividing line comes.”
The man who intends to be the Home Secretary in a matter of weeks, from the party which desperately wants you to think it’s no longer homophobic, seems not to understand that the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 doesn’t allow for such a distinction. As a society, when dealing with a conflict of religious and gay rights, we’ve decided that preventing businesses providing a service to the public from discriminating against gay people trumps the rights of religious people running any of those businesses to discriminate with their consciences. It’s fair, it’s proportionate and Grayling not understanding the meaning of the Sexual Orientation Regulations (and equalities legislation in general) should send a shiver down the spines of any gay person thinking of voting Tory.
The government, dissatisfied with public indifference to ID cards has decided to patronising us into allowing our identities to be privatised:
The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) will unveil animated fingerprint characters this week to promote the scheme to businesses, ahead of a consumer campaign in early 2010. The first wave of activity aims to build recognition among those businesses that will be regularly presented with cards by consumers. These include those in the retail, finance and education sectors.
‘The government is wasting vast sums of taxpayers’ money on the scheme,’ said shadow home secretary Chris Grayling. ‘Instead of marketing the scheme, it should be scrapping it.’ The Conservative Party has pledged to axe the cards if it wins the next general election.
It’s really shocking that a government which a) doesn’t have money to spend on needless projects and b) needs a big idea which works to catapult it into the next general election to give it a snowball’s chance in hell of winning should be continuing with its ID cards adventure. But it’s also not surprising. Home Secretary Alan Johnson’s committed the Home Office to a wholesale redefinition of identity for the 21st century (one defined by government, surprisingly enough), so despite his attempts to have us believe ID cards are dead, we still have a fight on our hands.