Liberty Central: yes, Lib-Con pact: no, no, no

A week and a half ago I wrote a post entitled Why I’m not willing to be part of this coalition and I still stand by what I said there. There has been a lot of feverish talk about an “anti-New Labour” – and by implication pro-Lib-Con – coalition on the blogosphere and a lot of it is utter bilge.

For those of you out there who still think that Cameron is the answer to all your civil liberty prayers, two points:

  • Of all the u-turns that Cameron has performed over the past few months, he has pointedly not gone back on the longstanding Tory policy to emasculate the already weak Human Rights Act;
  • The refusal of Cameron and the Tory front bench to back their own Lord’s attempts to amend the “glorification” clauses in the Terrorism Bill was utterly disgraceful and a perfect example of quite how pick-n-mix he is on such issues.

With all that said however, I do like the new Liberty Central website and wish it well. Indeed, with my work hat on, I’ve already started contributing to it. I’m optimistic that it will help bring a bit of coordination to what is currently a very diffuse movement. I’m completely happy to work on a cross-party basis like this, indeed I do it every day. Anything that pushes forward the debate and helps people to make informed choices is a good thing.

Liberal Democrats should, in my opinion, work constructively within this and other campaigns. I happen to believe that the most rational choice for supporting civil liberties, constitutional reform and democratic renewal is to vote Liberal Democrat (notwithstanding certain realities to do with our imperfect electoral system). But I’d rather other people came to that conclusion themselves by seeing Liberal Democrats lead by example, than for us to be seen to be attempting to sideline such effort. If supporters of other political parties seek to do the same thing, that can only be for the greater good.


  1. “Of all the u-turns that Cameron has performed over the past few months, he has pointedly not gone back on the longstanding Tory policy to emasculate the already weak Human Rights Act”.

    So he can still be a defender of civil liberties and the answer to all our civil liberty prayers?

  2. Only if you live in a fantasy Tory world where you can have guarantees of civil liberties yet not have them codified in any way.

  3. The HRA isn’t *really* a guarantee though, is it? It’s giving responsibility for it to the courts rather than Parliament, which seems, in a way, anti-democratic to me. You can still have them fully respected – as they should be – by Parliament.

  4. The HRA is a set of rules which laws must follow.
    The judiciaries sole job is to interpret and enforce the law. This is not anti-democratic, infact it is necessary for a parliamentary democracy to function. If Parliament of the Government is given carte blanche to do anything they like, the rule of law breaks down and we enter into a situation where democracy starts to fail and arbitrary decisions are made.

  5. The HRA puts ultimate responsibility squarely in the hands of Parliament. It couldn’t do anything else without codifying our unwritten constitution and challenging the sovereignty of Parliament. All it can do is challenge the government to reconsider an issue.

    But should the courts have greater powers in extreme situations? Absolutely, otherwise human rights legislation is worthless and politicians can just trample on our rights on a whim (your blog is called “trust people” yet you seem remarkably keen on parliamentary – as opposed to popular – sovereignty). That doesn’t mean going down the route of politicising the courts as we’ve seen in the US. We’re already signed up to the ECHR (something which even UKIP supported in the last General Election), but that is a convoluted route. Why wouldn’t we want British courts deliberating on British cases with human rights legislation tailored to British circumstances in the first instance?

  6. Good to see you posting articles there James, logged in a few minutes ago and saw you at the top of the front page and was happy 😉

    If L-C can be a success, then I’m happy. Tactical voting is a natural phenomena under FPTP anyway, and the positive reponses to L-C have made me a lot less bitter over the last two weeks.

    However, for the debate at hand, I think essentially Cameron has, and is positioning himself, in the centre ground. If you accept the compass (which I’m assuming we do) as a valid analysis, he’s taking centre ground economically and authority/liberty.

    LibDems are much better on liberty, but it’s good to see the Tories rejecting their authoritarian wing on certain issues, if not all of them. HRA is a distraction anyway, unless we withdraw from ECHR and thus EU as well (not going to happen), the terms are still binding.

  7. Tristan: the bizarre thing is that it’s not really binding, just kind of binding. What it does is delegate a quasi-policy balancing act to the courts in many cases. I firmly believe that when it becomes a quasi-policy balancing act, which is not very well informed by the ECHR itself as a result of its fairly vague terms, it should be a role for Parliament as the embodiment of the democratic will.

    James: Agree with your first paragraph, subject to what I say above.
    Obviously, I’m sad to say, I agree less with your second paragraph though! You say that unless the courts have more power Parliament can trample our rights at a whim, but that raises two questions.

    Firstly, from where do courts derive their legitimacy? I don’t believe in some sort of quasi-divine basis upon which power is exercised. I believe it should be exercised at, and only at, the will of the demos (and I have views on when I think that demos should agree to power being exercised, which are fairly restrictive and respectful of liberties). I don’t view the state as some institution inherent upon our existence.

    Secondly, what “rights” are trampled, and how do they become “rights”? You say yourself that the only reason people have “rights” under the HRA is because Parliament has decided that it won’t do certain things. You believe that there is a higher “qualification”, from what I can tell, as to what powers should or can be legitimately exercised by the state. This is all a bit too much like the convergence theory for me… I could be convinced as to the need for a bill of rights, which constricts Parliament, but I’d be concerned it was a mere fig-leaf and a sovereign Parliament acting responsibly isn’t doing such a terribly bad job at the moment. I disagree with the intrusions of liberty which are taking place, but don’t believe they violate some quasi-divine code.

    [In relation to the name of my blog, I believe that Parliament should trust people more, but that is a very separate concept to that of trusting *the* people. I see Parliament as a necessary embodiment of collective will on a restricted range of issues, but I do have grave concerns over it purporting to be acting out of will of “the people” – as this very often connotates a small group deciding what it is “the people” are meant to want or believe, when there’ll actually be a great diversity of wills and opinions.]

    Not as eloquent as I’ve sometimes put it…but I haven’t had lunch yet, am hungover and in a hurry. Sorry. I think it just about does the job!

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