Civil liberties, and the Labour and Conservative parties

The recent news about con­trol orders makes me a lit­tle wary. On the plus side, we’re rolling back one of the most egre­gious power grabs by the Labour gov­ern­ment, and the exec­u­tive has to relin­quish pow­ers to the judi­ciary on things such as con­trol orders, but on the other hand, the replaced regime has some mas­sive holes; most notably, the fact that the rub­ber­stamp­ing is gone and the pow­ers are permanent.

Still, I think it’s a good idea. Worst still, it pushes Labour into a cor­ner here: they can’t sup­port the new regime as it would be revers­ing on party pol­icy to do so (and as we know, only the Lib Dems ever do that) and it’d be tacit sup­port of the coali­tion they despise so much. They can’t oppose it either, as it ruins their image of hav­ing “changed” in the nine months they’ve been out of power. What’s a Miliband to do in this case?

You see, I didn’t vote for the Lib Dems because of tuition fees, or because it was trendy; I voted for them because I believed they would bring a lib­er­at­ing force to British pol­i­tics. One of the things that firmly cemented my sup­port in the Lib Dems was David Davis’ res­ig­na­tion back in 2008. It showed how far Labour had gone in the wrong direc­tion: a Tory — a mem­ber of a party that’s his­tor­i­cally some­what author­i­tar­ian (both him and the party) — resign­ing because he thought Labour pol­icy had gone too far.

It’s a story all too com­mon to Labour; when they were elected, they were a breath of fresh air. They passed the Human Rights Act, which con­sti­tu­tion­ally enshrined Euro­pean Char­ter of Human Rights into our laws. But then came U.S.S. Cole, fol­lowed swiftly by 9/11, and, like our cousins across the pond, we reacted to one inci­dent of ter­ror­ism in a far more knee-jerk man­ner than the thirty years of Irish nation­al­ism before it. Then came the Ter­ror­ism Act 2000, which allowed the police to arbi­trar­ily search you for car­ry­ing a cam­era or walk­ing on a cycle path, RIPA, famously abused by coun­cils to catch par­ents liv­ing out­side school catch­ment areas, fly-tippers, and under­age smok­ers, and SOCPA, which removed the right to protest along White­hall with­out get­ting “per­mis­sion” from the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Police.

One of the things that stops me sup­port­ing Labour is their insis­tence of “we don’t trust you to take care of your­self, so we’ll do it for you”. This is preva­lent in a lot of their leg­is­la­tion, not just the anti-terrorism leg­is­la­tion. Take, for exam­ple, the smok­ing ban. It’s a tricky issue, to be hon­est. Every avenue presents dis­ad­van­tages: busi­nesses hid­ing tobacco under the counter could affect the owner of a small shop when he has to refit the shop at his expense. Min­i­mum pric­ing would drive peo­ple onto the fer­ries and the con­ti­nent to hoard dozens of sleeves of cig­a­rettes. Gov­ern­ment warn­ings could be seen as pro­pa­ganda. Ban­ning tobacco would force mil­lions of smok­ers to either go through addic­tion ther­apy or break the law. But ban­ning smok­ing in all pub­lic indoor areas is indica­tive of this — and I despise the term — “nanny-statism”. It stops a busi­ness owner who doesn’t mind smok­ing to deal with the effects of pas­sive smok­ing by bet­ter fil­tra­tion or smok­ing rooms.

But the Tories aren’t any bet­ter. One thing that did come up while draft­ing this post was the issue of pris­oner votes. I tend to be for pris­oner votes for one sim­ple rea­son: dis­en­fran­chis­ing pris­on­ers could lead to abuse of the penal sys­tem. Take for exam­ple, ID cards. Were Labour re-elected last year, they could’ve made it a crim­i­nal act to destroy ID cards. Any­one who did so out of polit­i­cal protest would still face a jail sen­tence. So effec­tively, the gov­ern­ment has sti­fled both free­dom of expres­sion and cre­ated a less free elec­tion sys­tem. Addi­tion­ally, the cur­rent rules regard­ing crim­i­nal MPs means that Eric Ill­s­ley, had he not stepped down on Tues­day, could serve as an MP but his cell­mate could not vote for him.

I did catch some of the debate yes­ter­day. An over­whelm­ing con­sen­sus of the Con­ser­v­a­tive back­benchers was “those who break the laws can­not make the laws”. How ironic that by refus­ing to over­turn the blan­ket ban, the gov­ern­ment would be break­ing the law them­selves. As some astute twit­ter­ers pointed out, by this logic, they should resign. So should Alan John­son, too: after Sec­tion 44 was ruled unlaw­ful by the Euro­pean Court of Human Rights, his response was that the pow­ers would be strength­ened in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics. The point is: those who break the laws can make the laws. Bobby Sands, a famous IRA pris­oner, was elected from prison. The law was changed soon after, but even still, pris­on­ers serv­ing less than a year can stand for pub­lic office.

It was sad­den­ing to see Jack Straw stand up and back the Tories, but not unsur­pris­ing. Back in 2000, Leeds Uni­ver­sity Union enacted a sort of damna­tio mem­o­raie in response to the ex-LUU president’s respon­si­bil­ity to help pass the Asy­lum and Immi­gra­tion Bill, and removed his name from the pres­i­dents’ board in the Union. He was rein­stated in 2007, but still epit­o­mises Labour’s author­i­tar­ian streak to this day, with his remarks on veils in 2006, and Pak­ista­nis and gang-rape back in Jan­u­ary.

But it’s not even Straw. Miliband may try to project an image of hav­ing changed, but it still remains that the back­benchers are, as back­benchers nor­mally are, resis­tant to change. They’ve still got the author­i­tar­i­an­ism that plagued them in office — last night, Labour voted 62–7 to pass the motion — and they’ve still got some of the peo­ple respon­si­ble for loose reg­u­la­tion on the City in charge of their eco­nomic man­i­festo. They put a man who was found to have lied about immi­gra­tion into the Shadow Min­is­ter for Immi­gra­tion post. And all the while, they attack the gov­ern­ment for courses of action they would take them­selves: tuition fees, VAT, spend­ing cuts, loose reg­u­la­tion on the banks, are all poli­cies Labour would’ve done in power themselves.

The final thought comes from my words on Tues­day night while talk­ing to a social demo­c­rat friend of mine: the only real dif­fer­ence between Labour and the Con­ser­v­a­tives is that the Tories are open about the fact they’re nasty thugs.

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  1. […] This post was men­tioned on Twit­ter by Will, Founder Fire. Founder Fire said: #tea­party #912 Civil lib­er­ties, and the Labour and Con­ser­v­a­tive par­ties « Will’s …: Civil l… #LIBERTARIAN […]

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