Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Lib Con forces of Liberty

Henry Porter believes we got lucky with new UK government at least on civil liberties.
"The pernicious laws of the last 13 years are to be swept away in a repeal act thanks to a chance electoral result.
One of the great pleasures of last week was hearing Jack Straw speaking on the Today programme in that patient, reasonable way of the true autocrat, and suddenly realising that I never have to pay attention to him again...
This is not merely a hopeful inference drawn from the change of government. The coalition agreement makes an explicit commitment to liberty and privacy, rolls back state intrusion, restores freedoms and puts a brake on the erosion of rights. There are omissions, of course, but overall this is a moment to cherish because along with specific guarantees, it is clear that the tone of government has changed and that the influence of the new administration may extend right down to the rude and officious exercise of petty authority that flourished under New Labour.
The Queen's speech, now being drafted, will establish a Freedom or Great Repeal bill – the title has not yet been chosen – as a major part of the coalition's legislative programme. All the areas detailed in the agreement between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, such as the abolition of ID cards and the children's database (ContactPoint database??), the further regulation of CCTV and the restoration of right to protest will be in it. Measures that weren't in the published agreement will reassert the right to silence and protect people against the huge number of new powers of entry into the home allowed by Labour.
Separate from this will be a complete review of terror legislation that will assess 28-day detention, control orders, section 44 stop and search powers, the harassment of photographers, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and its amendments, which sanctioned 650 agencies and local authorities to carry out undercover surveillance...
Clearly, this all has to be watched very closely indeed – a lot has yet to be decided and there will be pressures from the civil servants, police, GCHQ and MI5 on such things as internet surveillance and phone intercepts. European plans for data collection and surveillance are a particular worry. But the essential point is that this exciting turn of events would not have been possible under a Labour-Lib Dem coalition or a Conservative minority government. It is a rare stroke of luck for the interests of liberty that the coalition allows the prime minister, David Cameron, to embrace this Lib Dem policy with open arms and ignore the reservations of the law-and-order nuts on his right...
Thinking about the five years of this campaign, I realise that the most agonising part of it was the sense that few people were really paying attention, and that Labour politicians could dismiss those who were as cranks and hysterics. This fear was behind the setting up of the Convention on Modern Liberty last year by Anthony Barnett and me, and the commission of a survey of all the laws that attacked liberty by University College law students, which we published as he Abolition of Freedom Act. The same fear compelled David Davis MP to resign during the previous summer and campaign against 42-day pre-charge detention and the database state, a gesture that cost him politically but which was critical in the defence of liberty.
This vindication is almost as much fun as not listening to Jack Straw. The programme of measures listed in the agreement between the governing parties "to reverse the substantial erosion of liberties under the Labour government" proves for once and all that we weren't making it up. We are very fortunate that the election played out the way it did."
Very well said.  As I said a few days ago, the promises of the new regime on civil liberites are promising but it will be interesting to see the details.  As Henry Porter rightly says, the most agonising part of Nu Labour's systematic destruction of liberty was the sense that few people were really paying attention.  The reversal of the damage the previous government has done in this area is a massive undertaking but here's hoping they have political will and energy to carry it through even when Sir Humphrey advises "that's a brave decision minister."

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