Tolerance of gender, sexual and racial differences is certainly much greater today. But can Britain be described as a more liberal society after a month that has seen all parties support legislation that will effectively license the press, and a second bill introducing secret hearings in civil cases pass through the Lords, with Liberal Democrat peers whipped to oppose amendments that were designed to support open and natural justice? I’ll come to the Lib Dems later, but the short answer is no.There have been gains and losses in recent decades. Nowadays, we accept gay rights and people can say f**k on television. But more fundamental liberties are being sacrificed:
Things are happening that would have been unimaginable to democrats across the political spectrum 30 years ago. Personal rights have expanded and tolerance undeniably has increased, but at the same time we are behaving as though liberty were a limitless resource that can be endlessly compromised without loss to the individual, or to the sum total of rights that define our free society.Porter said “I’ll come to the Lib Dems later” and he does:
That the Liberal Democrat party lost or betrayed its principles so quickly in government is, I suppose, to be expected, and I have to confess to very little surprise when I read Nick Clegg’s weaselly speech on immigration, which seemed to proclaim tolerance yet contained the subsonic message of rightwing dog-whistle politics. With every day that passes, he looks more and more like a member of Blair’s second administration home affairs team.
The problem is that as the liberal voice is all but disappearing from parliament we have a generation of leaders in their 40s who will seem almost indistinguishable to future historians. Clegg’s betrayal of liberal values was simply part of the process of his becoming a member of the pragmatic, basically non-ideological, homogenised governing class, which on these issues of liberty moves in lockstep.British politics these days is reminiscent of beer in the 1970s, when the big brewers almost destroyed Britain’s brewing culture and the wide variety of beers. They wanted to replace them with a few bland, homogenised, TV-advertised keg beers such as Double Diamond, Courage Tavern and Watney’s Red Barrel. They would have succeeded were it not for CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale), which led a revival of craft brewing.
The blithe dismissal of civil liberties is the Watney’s Red Barrel of politics. We don’t just need a campaign for civil liberties. We need a Campaign for Real Politics.