Wednesday 27 March 2013

And Clegg’s next slap in the face to the party is...?

Can it get any worse? Yes it can.

First, we had the vote in the House of Commons on 4th March on secret courts (compounded by last night’s vote in the House of Lords).

Then last Friday we had Nick Clegg’s speech on immigration.

Next on the agenda is the Communications Data Bill. The Drum reports:
The Communications Data Bill, which critics believe could introduce the most ‘intrusive’ powers for a Government in the West in order to store mass communications data, could be introduced in the coming weeks.
The Telegraph reports that the ‘Snoopers Charter’ as it has been nicknamed, could be included in the Queen’s Speech in May, which offers police and intelligence agencies the power to access the records of internet providers to record the activity of their customers.
According to a report from the Home Office, the new charter is necessary “to help in the investigation of crime,” with some communications data found to be longer retained “for business reasons.”
The argument for the bill is to help security services maintain a pace with technological advancement.
In February it was reported by the Daily Mail that the charter had already cost £400 million before any data had even been collected.
Yesterday, a report released by thinktank Demos suggested that police were putting together a centralised hub to ‘collect, store and analyse social media data.
Surely even Nick Clegg would oppose this? Don’t bet on it.

You may recall that, on 3rd April last year, there was a conference call on this very issue between some Liberal Democrat bloggers and some of Clegg’s advisers. By all accounts, this was a full and frank exchange of views. The most disturbing thing about that exchange was the advisers’ apparent lack of liberal instincts; they simply could not grasp why party members were up in arms. If this is indicative of the quality of advice Clegg is receiving, there is little wonder he is so insensitive to the party’s values and culture. But then if one is allocating blame, one is forced to ask why Clegg hires such advice in the first place.

On the night of that infamous conference call, Jonathan Calder advised Nick Clegg to consider this strategic question:
Who do you expect to vote for you at the next election? As my Liberator colleague Simon Titley never tires of pointing out, the Liberal Democrats’ great weakness is that our core vote is so small. We pride ourselves on working harder than the other parties, but the fact that we have to work so hard to persuade people to vote for us is really a sign of weakness.
What we need is a core of liberally minded people who naturally vote Liberal Democrat. If you put yourself on the other side of this debate from every civil liberties group in the country, it is hard to see why liberally minded people should vote for you.
So if you take my advice you will distance yourself from these proposals very loudly and very publicly.
Clegg’s performance on the issues of secret courts and immigration suggests that he is doing the precise opposite. He doesn’t agree with Jonathan Calder that the Liberal Democrat vote can be found among “liberally minded people”. He thinks it is in the same space that the other mainstream parties are trying to occupy: the mythical ‘centre ground’ (criticised recently by Tory MP Bernard Jenkin), with our old friends ‘Alarm Clock Britain’, ‘hard-working families’ and the ‘squeezed middle’.

Well I don’t know about you, Mr Clegg, but most members of the Liberal Democrats did not join the party and campaign so that they could blend in with the (small ‘c’ conservative) scenery. They joined to put liberal values into practice, and a liberal party that regards liberal issues as secondary or expendable has lost its point.

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