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Commentary 333 – May 2009
18 May 2009 (20:29:56)

GUARDING THE GUARDIANS

It would once have seemed unimaginable that the Conservative Party – of all things – would find itself complaining about police behaviour.

But then it would also have seemed beyond belief that an opposition MP would be arrested and find his parliamentary office raided by police at the behest of senior civil servants who resented politically embarrassing leaks.

It may yet prove that the police decision to take a DNA sample from Damian Green will have marked a turning point when the Tories decided that, should they return to power, they would actually do something to roll back Labour’s assault on civil liberty.

Green is not the only person with a grievance about police conduct. Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake describes elsewhere in this issue what he saw as a parliamentary observer at the G20 demonstrations at which passer-by Ian Tomlinson died, at the time of writing for reasons that remain disputed.

Those G20 demonstrators who were neither killed nor injured can at least be grateful that they got onto the streets at all; in Nottinghamshire, 114 people who merely thought about staging an environmental protest at a power station found themselves arrested, only to be released without charge (but in some cases subject to vindictive bail conditions).

Less serious, but equally questionable, was the police action against two Austrian tourists engaged in the eccentric but harmless pursuit of photographing a bus station in suburban London. Has the UK under Labour become one of those countries where the guide books warn, “seek police permission before taking photos”?

What these events collectively show is that, if the police are given a power, they will use it to its fullest extent until the government or courts stop them. And since Labour has spent 12 years giving the police every power for which they ask, these excesses are hardly a surprise.

Ever since Tony Blair became its leader, Labour has been in cowardly thrall to tabloid campaigns on crime.

Its response has been a sort of mindless hyperactivism that equates the creation of endless new offences – and the destruction of endless historic liberties – with effective action.

There was a pleasing irony in Jacqui Smith, the latest in Labour’s dismal parade of authoritarian home secretaries, being caught out on her expenses by prying neighbours – those who wish to spy on the whole country can hardly complain when it happens to them.

There was a less pleasing one in a party that wants to impose identity cards on everyone allowing riot police to conceal their identifications at the G20 protests.

We all know where another Labour government would lead – to country where people are arrested or worse for failing to carry identity cards, and for even merely thinking about any disruptive protest.

But since Labour is now the party that supports illegal warfare and the use of torture, what else is to be expected? A government that hands its own residents over to a foreign power to be tortured is hardly likely to mind a few a protesters being beaten.

Labour’s record on civil liberty is shameful – indeed so shameful that the whole issue is now slowly coming out of the political closet in which it normally dwells, to become a matter of public concern and an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats.

This has always been a Lib Dem issue, and now it is one that has ceased to be theoretical and can be related to people’s everyday lives.

Do you want your e-mails spied on? Do you want to have your movements tracked by the police through an identity card? Do you want your child’s DNA held for life on a database of actual or imagined criminals? If so, vote Labour.

That the Lib Dems might end up making common cause on civil liberty with the Conservatives would once also have been unimaginable, and that this now happens shows the depths to which Labour has sunk and why it cannot be trusted with civil liberty.

STOP WAVING IT ABOUT

Liberator 332 carried a story that said Nick Clegg was revisiting Liberal Democrat policy on Trident replacement. It seems we were right, even if it not clear how or when a policy change might take place.

Even though the argument against Trident now is cast more in financial terms than military – let alone moral – ones, the case for the Lib Dems to oppose this piece of Blair willy-waving is compelling.

It hardly needs saying that, of the words ‘independent British nuclear deterrent’, only ‘nuclear’ is true and the rest fiction.

Opposing it would not merely offer a popular public spending cut but would give the Lib Dems a very clear point of differentiation from the other parties and, with Iraq and tuition fees fading as live issues, the party needs plenty of those.

The policy decision in 2007 had the additional problem of being so complex that it cannot easily be explained, especially not on a doorstep, and so is the worst of all worlds – unconvincing to both Trident’s opponents and supporters.

Clegg shows signs of moving away from the bland ‘me too’ politics that made his first year heavy going. Here is another opportunity.

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