As others have blogged - good pieces from Zoe O'Connell here , Miss S-B here, the always brilliant Lord Bonkers here, just for starters - there was a heated conference call last night between SpAds and Policy advisors from Great George Street and many of the active Lib Dem blogosphere. For what's its worth, here are a few observations. (These are my take outs from the call, didn't have time to write everything down, too much shouting going on...)
1. I appreciate the time everyone took to do this call (and of course hats off to Helen Duffett for organising it).
2. The call started badly. The general view of the SpAds seemed to be - as is so often the case - that we simply don't understand. Position 1 was that the press reports are wrong, there are simply no agreed proposals to discuss. When it was pointed out that the Home Secretary had written a piece in The Sun that morning telling everyone how much the new powers were needed, this was abandoned.
3. Next we were told that there will be no new central database. As was again pointed out, this is disingenuous - with ISPs required to hold data for up to two years, there will be a multitude of non centralised data bases. It's also a Red Herring - it's any increase of powers in this area at all that we object to.
4. Next we were told Nick - 48 hours after the event - had been in the media that day telling people he was firmly against these plans. Despite the fact that we were all looking at the transcript from his World at One interview in which he most certainly did not say that at all. These being the plans we'd been told earlier didn't actually exist.
5.There was a clear desire from the SpAds to persuade us that this was a messaging problem - lots of mea culpas and 'with the benefit of hindsights'. Undoubtedly, there has been a messaging problem - Nick should have been on the airwaves first thing Sunday Morning saying 'over my dead body'. But the real problem is that the party really didn't seem to get that its not how the message is conveyed that is the problem - we, as a party, do not want these powers extended. Full stop. That's not messaging. It's philosophy.
6. At one point one SpAd asked the 'rhetorical question' of the group 'are you saying there's no way in which we should be extending the current powers to cover other forms of technology'. He seemed genuinely non plussed when he got a chorus of 'yes' comments. Not so rhetorical after all...
7. Finally, no one on the call seemed to understand that the party is expecting the coalition agreement to deliver powers like these being reduced - actively. We would like legislation put forward in the Queens Speech, agreeing how this can be rolled back. We don't want an 'extension of the status quo'. We want action to reverse the status quo.
I asked for Nick to unequivocally state that he backs every word of the motion passed at Conference on this area just three weeks ago. I was told this was being looked at. I am actively looking out for it.
I think the SpAds on the call were expecting a bunch of mildly miffed but dedicated Lib Dems to politely ask for clarification of the plans. I hope the fact that they got two dozen well informed, totally irate party members demanding action right now has clarified how the party feels about all this.
And I hope that message has been delivered to Nick.