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The politics of control orders

By Andy Mayer
November 10th, 2010 at 12:18 am | Comments Off on The politics of control orders | Posted in Conservatives, Liberal Democrats

Jeremy Browne, perhaps the MP with whom Liberal Vision has most sympathy on many issues, has not had a good week. An appearance on Question Time last week saw him attacked unfairly for an ill-judged attempt to mock arguments against military co-operation with France. The more serious error from the internal party perspective however concerned his attempt to add nuance to the party’s opposition to Control Orders.

Control Orders were introduced by the 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act. They replaced Part IV of the 2001 Anti-terrorism, crime and security Act that allowed the Home Secretary to detain foreign nationals without trial indefinitely pending deportation. Itself a post 9-11 measure bought into try and sidestep the UK’s obligation not to deport people likely to be subject to torture… and struck down accordingly by Law Lords as incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)

Control Orders themselves, which are designed to be a ‘prison without bars’, by issuing restrictions to movement and activities on the target, have been subject to numerous similar challenges and are rarely used. They are expensive, costing over £200k per issue, and around £8m in fees relating to the legal challenges. Many Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have opposed them on cost, effectiveness and civil liberties grounds in Parliament.

The Coalition though, facing a decision on whether to use them days into the new government, opted to do so, then put the policy into review with other counter terrorism measures.

In that respect Jeremy’s explanation of the Government’s policy position on QT was correct. Control orders will be reviewed, the government will then decide their future on the basis of discussion and evidence from that review. Cabinet collective responsibility demands Ministers abide by and defend government decisions publicly even when they do not privately agree with them.

The sticky wicket though is that this is that for most liberals this is  fairly fundamental breach of civil liberties not a nuanced issue of the line between “liberty and security” subject to an impact assessment. It is also a decision on a process to take a decision, not a decision.

Does collective responsibility in coalition mean you cannot state your previous party policy before explaining the process to reach a consensus with a party with a different policy? I suspect not, and Chris Huhne took a different line very recently.

On the substance of the issue – the right to fair trial; to know of what it is you are accused, to legal representation, and due process; are all undermined by control orders. This was excused by the previous government under article 15 of the EHCR that permits derogation of other rights on pretext of “war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation”.

In most cases of terrorism outside conventional war a reasonable person would think of this as the ‘ticking bomb scenario‘. An explanation that conjures up images of imminent attack and capture of a suspect who can disclose information vital to stop the plot, and the measures required to extract that information. 

It does not fit so well with restrictions to liberty over a period of many years without recourse to a fair trial. Less preventing a ticking bomb, more preventing someone buying an alarm clock.  Something for which covert surveillance and intelligence is deemed sufficient for all other crimes.

It also does not help that the ‘it saves lives’ line is also used by those in favour of torture as a derogated right of the state, most recently George Bush. Liberals would not typically decide whether waterboarding was right or wrong on the basis of a review of whether it worked.

The other justification by the UK security services is that fair trials for those under control would put sensitive intelligence sources at risk. This is also used to support their (globally) almost unique opposition to the use of intercept evidence in courts.

It is a position open to significant abuse. It also allows the services to cover up errors and malpractice and it might be summarised as a preference for operating under a mandate of “trust us we’re the security services”.

It also means that if the current review uncovers compelling evidence that control orders work, this evidence will be sensitive and not published, lest it compromise security sources. An endorsement of control orders following the review could then be presented as “trust us we’re the Government”.

For liberals this is the problem. Government and their agencies cannot be trusted without question. Fair trials and public scrutiny of ministerial decisions matter and should be defended, robustly.

For Liberal Democrat Ministers in Government, the tension between their liberty to speak up, and security of the coalition agreement will always be difficult. They should not though present themselves as though operating under some kind of control order.


Tories push Orwellian “Intercept Modernisation Programme”

By admin
October 20th, 2010 at 4:33 pm | 4 Comments | Posted in coalition, Conservatives, freedom, Opinion

GUEST POST: Alex Deane of Big Brother Watch warns of the continuing IMP. Are the Tories burying news of this “surveillance state” mechanism?


You may have seen that the appalling “Intercept Modernisation Programme” is to continue. Buried in the recently released Strategic Defence and Security Review, the Government plans to introduce

a programme to preserve the ability of the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain communication data and to intercept communications

This comes despite the Conservative Party’s recent pledge to reverse the rise of the surveillance state.

If you can bear it, do please have a look at that last link. It’s remarkable that they’ve left the paper on the Party website; perhaps the thinking (and I say this as a Tory) is that everyone’s so concerned with the spending review that nobody will notice the rank hypocrisy?

Whatever the explanation, leaving it up breaks with the longstanding tradition of repainting the commandments on the side of the barn whenever Napoleon changes his mind.

And as readers of LV will know all too well, this can’t be blamed on the formation of the Coalition. The Liberal Democrats are (or hitherto have been) admirably sound on the issue and the Coalition Agreement promised to “end the storage of internet and email records without good reason.”

Couple this with the disgusting u-turn on the Summary Care Record, despite similarly clear and concrete promises, and a troubling picture emerges; it is fascinating and dreadful to see the speed of bureaucratic capture, the reversion to bureaucratic authoritarianism on show – intrusions are piling up so fast that my extended essay published last week is already out of date.

The IMP will allow the security services and the police to spy on the activities of everyone using a phone or the internet. Every communications provider will be obliged to store details of your communications for at least a year and obliged in due course to surrender them up to the authorities. The authorities will be able to track every phone call, email, text message and website visit made by the public on the absurd pretext that it will help to tackle crime or terrorism.

Just see how the surveillance state is being reversed, eh?

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Coalition,Cuts and Conservatives…post match report

By Angela Harbutt
September 21st, 2010 at 7:25 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in coalition, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats

“Coalition,Cuts and Conservatives” was, when I looked it up ahead of conference, reckoned to be the 5th most popular fringe at conference. And popular it certainly was. Apologies to the hundreds that were turned away as ‘ealth and safety forced us to close the doors.

We had a hairy moment or two in the preceding half hour..not least the fact that conference registration “opening hours” (or closing hours to be more precise) meant that one of our speakers – Lembit Opik – could not actually not get in to conference! Yes, the steward knew who Lembit was (even my mum knows who Lembit is!) and no he was not considered a security threat (though he sounded less certain of this to be honest), but Lembit could not be allowed entry without his pass. The computer said no. All was thankfully resolved when a brilliant conference organiser  re-opened the registration desk so that Lembit could indeed prove he was Lembit. Our thanks to the organisers for that, but how ironic (as the chairman remarked at the time) that the Lib Dems have only been in power a few weeks and have seemingly embraced ID cards so wholeheartedly.

So to the session. I have been asked to precis what was said by the many who could not get in. Always a tough task, and I have kept it to “top line” messages ..but here goes…..

Jeremy Browne MP kicked off. He asked the audience three questions – which (being a minister) he then answered.”Should we cut the deficit?” – Yes he said. He was completely signed up to the fiscal cuts of this government. The sooner  the better.”Should we go into coalition”– Yes he said. There was no other option. The Lib Dems found themselves immediately post election on a desert island with the Tories.  Labour were on a boat, going away from the island and sinking fast . It was NOT an option to sit on the sidelines with the economy teetering on the brink of disaster. “Where next”? Jeremy asked Lib Dems to “hold your nerve”.  Using a football analogy (is he a footie fan ?), we are, he said, in the 7th minute of a football game and there was no need for a change in formation, or start considering substitutes just yet. In a wrap up he made the point that it was important to keep the Lib Dem identity within the coalition – but stressed  that not all aspects of Lib Dems identity were good. E.g. he was eager to change the view that “Lib Dems were not capable of governing”..and the view that “hung parliaments equal chaos”. So, we should hold our nerve …the positive aspects of the Lib Dem’s identity will grow through this parliamentary session and we would NOT be seen as a glorified pressure group but a serious party capable of governing.

Professor Richard Grayson came up next, telling us of  his personal experiences campaigning on the doorstep at the last election and that  government spending cuts was far and away the biggest issue raised. He said that the Lib Dems had campaigned on  the same scale and timescale of cuts as Labour (the Tories deeper and sooner) which made it hard to explain the Lib Dem change within coalition. He did not accept that a Tory minority government was an impossible option at the time and suggested that is was an “ideological drift towards the centre right, by the top echelons of the party” that explained the decision to go with the Tories.  He considered it appropriate for Lib Dem MPs and ministers to voice dissent publicly with coalition government policy (mentioned Vince Cable’s interventions on immigration), saying it was helpful to illustrate to the electorate how coalitions work. People need to witness discussion/debate within the coalition to understand the value and role of the Lib Dems in that government.

Next up was Professor Stephen Haseler (founder member of the Social Democratic Party). He opened by raising concern that the coalition premise to get out of this economic crisis was growth- but that with banks lending much less and the collapse of the global economy meaning little prospect of exports how could there be growth? When there is no growth in the private sector he believed that it was aggravating the situation by cutting public spending. The consequence of this would be economic hardship and unemployment. The coalition government was going to become very unpopular and the Lib Dems would take the brunt of the criticism – we the Lib Dems will be blamed for the crisis. His view  was that it would have been better to have gone down the route of supporting  the Conservative government on a policy by policy basis – that WAS an option – and that the Lib Dem leadership chose power instead and they would have to live with it.

Guido (Paul Staines) came next. Gleefully (and he really did look very happy – though that might have just have been unbounded joy at being at Lib Dem conference) he told us that it had been a 20 year ambition of his to see a Lib/Con coalition and that he (and the chair Mark Littlewood)  had been two of the most prominent people calling for just that during those mad meeting-filled days, post election. Turning to the future, he said that if there was not a double dip (and pointed out that  UK growth was certainly evident currently), we could enjoy an economic bounce in 2013/2014 that would get the Lib Dems re-elected. He expressed a desire for the the Lib Dems to become the second largest party in the country and believed that was attainable – and, controversially for the assembled audience, he thought that some form of electoral pact with the Conservatives would be necessary (oh how the audience hissed at this). He finished by saying that the prize of keeping the Labour party out of power was worth fighting for.

Julian Harris (Liberal Vision) followed Guido.  He started by quoting Hislop…. that the good thing about coalition was that it kept out (or at least at bay) the loonies of bothparties. He believed the coalition was a good thing but that the Tories he had spoken to (and urged us to believe that they are really not as bad as you think) were  NOT happy with the coalition and expected it to end. His analysis was that this was because Conservatives by their very nature do not believe in coalition. They just want to be in power. That is why they don’t like AV. Looking forward he said that the challenge for the Liberals was to ensure that liberalism was a guiding influence on government. He too called for liberals to keep their identity and push the things they believe in (eg localism) . He finished by saying that in order to reduce the deficit we need to REFORM the state not just trim it a bit and he preferred to have liberals involved in that process, rather than sitting on the sidelines.

As Lembit had yet to break through the ring of steel, the chairman (Mark Littlewood) asked Jeremy Browne (who was being so efficient he was quitting our session early to squeeze in another fringe event) whether it was possible for ministers in a coalition government to get out their own distinct liberal message?  Jeremy has obviously honed his interviewing technique across the summer and in true ministerial style chose to address another issue. He stated very boldly that forming a coalition with the Conservatives had been a fantastic achievement. He said he had grown very tired of sitting on the sidelines seeing the Lib Dems be proved right time and again to no avail. This was an opportunity to show that the Lib Dems should be in power – that Lib Dems CAN do government. He also pointed out that had we gone down the “minority Conservative government route” and Osborne had been voted down on his deficit-cutting package we would now be facing another general election. We would have demonstrated that we could not step up to the plate when needed and would have been punished at the next election with fewer MPs returned. What had we got out of this election? he asked….More than any other election in his lifetime. On that note he left to fulsome applause.

Lembit had by now battled his way through the security cordon and was (also to warm applause) invited to take Jeremy’s seat. How cool was this he said..a few weeks in coalition and he was being invited to take the seat of a minister… Turning to the topic in hand he kicked off by asking what on earthwas the point of being in the business of winning elections and then running away from power when it was offered? He reminded us all that he had in fact lost his seat to a Conservative and that people might assume that he was against a Lib/Con coalition (yep I assumed he was)..But no! he said that the ONLY numerical option was to go with the Tories. He believed that there was no alternative; that this was a test of courage – and had demonstrated that we do care more about the country that the selfish short term interests of the party. He finished by saying we should hold our nerve and be proud of the decision to take the brave and correct option.

Mark Littlewood (chair) then took a straw poll – “Were liberals right to join in coalition with the Conservatives?”. I was surprised to see that the overwhelming majority put their hands up (I was at the back of the room but estimate 95% put up their hands. Just a handful (and I mean a very small handful – one, maybe two?) raised their hands to the counter question of whether this was a bad thing.

Questions (and one or two rather long speeches) followed. I had writers cramp by then and gave up note-taking at that point – apologies.

The chairman did run a couple of other straw polls across the Q&A that I did note. “Who believes that MP’s were honest during the election about spending cuts?” (few hands)… “Who believed that there was obfuscation?” (vast majority raised their hands…no shit!). Hmm said Mr Littlewood this is a stored up problem for the coalition. You betcha. 

The final straw poll… “Will the coalition last a full five years?” Yes was the resounding majority reply.

And that was that. It was then off for food, wine and cigarettes (in varying proportions) and talking into the the wee small hours.

Our grateful thanks to our co-organisers IEA  (Insitute of Economic Affairs) and ASI (Adam Smith Institute), the chairman Mark Littlewood, our brilliant speakers, a truly marvelous organiser who got Lembit through the men in black, and of course the audience which participated so enthusiastically  (apologies not recording your comments/questions) and tolerated a superheated room without complaint.

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Lib Dem Conference Event: Lembit Opik, Guido Fawkes, Jeremy Browne, Richard Grayson, Stephen Haseler…

By Julian Harris
September 15th, 2010 at 11:55 am | 1 Comment | Posted in coalition, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats


This is the week we’ve all been waiting for. Waiting, patiently. Silently. Waiting.

Then waiting some more.

Yet suddenly HARK! IT STARTS!

Yes, that’s right – the Liberal Democrat Conference 2010 begins this Saturday. I can almost feel your auricles fluttering from here.

If you’re going to conference, come to this:

“Coalition, Cuts and Conservatives: an attractive agenda for the Lib Dems?”

It features:


And me.

Mark Littlewood, now head of the IEA, chairs the event.

It’s on Sunday 19th September, 8pm – 9:15pm.

Location: ACC Liverpool, Hall 11C

It’s free, but get there early to avoid disappointment. It’s inside the venue, so you need a conference pass.

Also, if you would like to HELP Liberal Vision during the conference, drop me an e-mail with “Help! You need somebody (me)” in the subject line. I know, I know. I have my coat and am heading for the door. I can only apologise.

And finally… young Liberal Democrat Niklas Smith has been doing valuable work critiquing the free schools motion. You can read his excellent evidence-check against the motion here:

But for now adios, and we’ll see you in Liverpool.

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Can a Whig give the coalition some soul?

By Angela Harbutt
September 7th, 2010 at 1:03 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in coalition, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats

Its been  a bit of a depressing summer for many..all that talk of cuts, hacking and slashing – we might be forgiven for thinking that Freddy Krueger has hit town. But the really depressing thing for me has been lack of a philosophy behind the slicing and dicing. Yes I know our coalition partners will point us to  “The Big Society”. But, to be honest, I still don’t understand it….the journalists and political commentators don’t understand it… hell I don’t think even David Cameron understands it. So it was a real  hallelujah moment when I was handed a copy of the Sunday Times to read. For there in black and white was the answer of course…in the slightly retro-looking form of  Friedrich Hayek.

In his article, Liberal Vision’s old friend and founder Mark Littlewood, now of  The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), serves up a convincing argument as to why Mr Hayek and his “Constitution of Liberty” has all the answers …(well most of the answers anyway).

In his article (which you can read in full on the IEA website) he says…

 “Although one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century, Hayek has never been a household name. Remarkably, for a man who was born at the tail end of the 19th century, won the Nobel prize for economics in 1974 and died nearly 20 years ago, that may be about to change. Thanks to an extensive feature on the wildly popular Glenn Beck television programme in America, Hayek’s masterpiece The Road to Serfdom zoomed to the top of Amazon’s bestseller charts in June.

This is unusual enough for a philosophical tract, but is astonishing for a book originally published in 1944…… downloaded from our website tens of thousands of times over the summer.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of another great Hayek text, The Constitution of Liberty. Anyone searching for an intellectual basis for a genuinely Liberal-Conservative approach to government should read it.

Hayek argues for strict limits on state activity and intervention. But he offers a very different take on the nature of the individual from that often – if wrongly – associated with free-market capitalism. Hayek sees individuals as intrinsically social beings. His vision of a free society is not one where men and women are trampling over one another in pursuit of narrow, venal self-interest, each using their own freedom of action to exploit others. Hayek believed each individual would benefit as much from the exercise of others’ freedom as their own.

This optimistic view of human nature should be what guides the British government as it grapples with the shocking state of the nation’s public finances and attempts to provide some coherence to its big society agenda.

Interestingly, and importantly for the coalition, although beloved of Margaret Thatcher, Hayek was not a Tory. He described himself as a Whig. And Mark Littlewood may well have had another annoying moment of foresight when he argues later in his article that the coalition should seek to rediscover the best elements of this Whig tradition.

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