'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Sunday 8 September 2013

I don't write the headlines....

My latest in the New Statesman. On Secret Courts. We are - once again - against. Come home Jo Shaw!

One of the best things about being a member of the Lib Dems is that twice a year you get to have a blazing row with your leadership about why they don’t know their arse from their elbow and that time is shortly upon us once again. Yes folks, conference season starts next week.
And as per normal there’s no shortage of rows on the horizon as the leadership suggests the party faithful back Osbornomics, ask us to agree that they were right all  along about tuition fees, and invite us to keep Trident. Oh, it’s going to be a corker this year…
But one of the other nicest things about being a member of the Lib Dems is that from time to time, the leadership listens, holds its hand up, accepts it go it wrong – and changes stuff. And one of those occasions will also happen next week. It seems the leadership has accepted that the party faithful may have had a point over what was THE row of Spring Conference 2013 and is prepared to reverse the legislation on Secret Courts.
You’ll have to hunt hard for proof of this, but fortunately I know a man with both a magnifying glass and the inside track. And in the penultimate debate of conference, a motion is being proposed by David Laws and seconded by Duncan Brack (each representing, I think it's fair to say, opposite ends of the party) inviting conference to endorse the manifesto themes paper.
With a foreword by Nick Clegg, hidden away on Page 22, it says:
 "We will find practical alternatives to the use of closed material proceedings within the justice system, including the provisions of the Justice and Security Act 2013, with the aim of restoring the principle of open justice".
Now, while the party will argue endlessly with itself over various aspects of policy on health, education, defence or the economy, give it a civil liberties issue and it will unite in a moment. Because that’s the main reason why most people join the Liberal Democrats. And as a result Secret Courts is probably the thing that’s happened in government that makes folk unhappiest.
And joy of joy – Nick’s held his hand up and concurred. Hats off.
Now, there’s a way to go yet. Conference has to vote for it, the full manifesto has to be written – and we’ve got  to be part of the next government to repeal the current legislation. There’s a way to go yet.
But at least we’re on the right road.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Richard, Having read the motion and the relevant bit of the policy paper I'm not terribly convinced by the leadership's apparent change of view on secret courts I'm afraid.

    As a general point, is the Liberal Democrat party's primary purpose now *not* to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society? That is the suggestion of the first section of the motion. A depressing confirmation of the truth as far as the leadership is concerned, I suspect.

    Secondly, about secret courts, the motion itself makes no mention of them. It does refer to protecting civil liberties and human rights, through a written constitution. So nothing specific about repealing this legislation as there was with the commitment to end child detention, or scrap ID cards, for example.

    Finally, as you have set out above the policy paper itself says finding practical alternatives to CMPs. We had them. This government, supported by Lib Dems other than the noble few, scrapped them. Secondly the "aim" is to restore open justice. So there is an acknowledgement of the damage done by this appalling Act and a weak statement of intent. One can imagine the way this would be described. "Well we did have that aim, we still have that aim, but sadly due to the need to protect national security sensitive information, it's just not been possible to achieve this time. We'll keep working on it, and you can trust Lib Dems to protect your civil liberties and human rights, but just not right now, sorry". (I doubt the last bit would be included, but you get the idea).

    The problem Lib Dems face is this. When in government, what happened? Civil liberties and historic rights which have lasted for centuries were given up on the basis of no evidence, despite opposition from the experts (Special Advocates), the parliamentary committee responsible and from many interested and much better informed people than most parliamentarians. Fair trials have ended in civil claims with Liberal Democrat complicity.

    It simply doesn't bear scrutiny for a broad "aim" to be couched as a triumph and a return of the party's core values.

    The evidence already is that Abdul-Hakim Belhadj's case will be one of the first to use a CMP. You remember - the man who was tortured by the Libyan's after Jack Straw and others facilitated his kidnap, along with his pregnant wife who was shackled to a wall for three days without any food. The Home Secretary refused to rule out using CMPs in David Miranda's claim for false imprisonment - so secret courts being used to hush up investigative journalism which embarrasses the government. There are others, and I wait with interest for confirmation that the Ministry of Defence will seek to use a CMP in the case of the families of killed army personnel bringing claims against the government for faulty equipment.

    The damage has been done, to our country's judicial system and to the reputation of the Lib Dem leadership. I don't think this motion changes that one bit. If you can't trust Lib Dem parliamentarians to stand up for core liberal principles at the point when they have the power to live them, why on earth should I or anyone else who cares about freedom vote for them, let alone (re)join the party?