Nick Clegg's office has released a statement regarding the recent detention of David Miranda, which you can find on Lib Dem Voice. Whatever, this post was pre-planned and the statement doesn't go anyway near far enough as to cover the point I planned to make. I have changed the title though, so here is the piece as conceived:
It Doesn't Matter
- It doesn't matter that the Terrorism Act 2000 was introduced by Labour (the clue is in the year).
- It doesn't matter that Liberal Democrats did not support the bill, opposed it being pushed through parliament at speed and supported a number of amendments to temper its power (Hansard, 15 March 2000).
- It doesn't matter that use of the power has reduced in recent years (see page 48 of this document).
- It doesn't matter that the power is already being reformed.
It doesn't matter because, as Mark Pack and Jonathan Calder have pointed out, the high level Lib Dem response has been deafening in its silence. So it doesn't matter that there is outrage amongst the rank and file, when sanctimonious Labour activists start kicking us we have no response.
Nick, Jeremy Browne, and other prominent figures should have been vocal from the start. Even if their statements would have had to be more nuanced than a pure Liberal may have liked, at least we could have had something to hang our response on. As it is, we have nothing.
I'm disinclined to take lessons on Civil Liberties from Labour activists. But if I'm going into the breach, I need to be armed. And that starts at the top. I can't trumpet the Lib Dem position if there is no apparent Lib Dem position.
But, I fear the problem goes wider than this one case.
A Fairer Society means a free society where individuals aren't subject to harassment. It means the rule of law - and a law that is proportionate. It means treating suspected terrorists broadly as we would other criminals.
And if Liberal Democrats in government aren't - and/or aren't being seen to be - fighting for these things, then who the heck will?
It is issues like this that severely test my support for the coalition. After Secret Courts and Racist Vans (to name but two examples where the leadership have let the party down), it appears the leadership still haven't got it: we're LIBERAL Democrats and we should be fighting the ground on Civil Liberties. Even if you think there's limited electoral advantage in taking that territory, you can ill-afford to alienate the people who are out in the field campaigning for Liberal Democrats in local, regional, national and supranational elections.
I hope lessons will be learned for the next such test of our approach to Civil Liberties. I'm not holding my breath.