The story has revealed dangerous levels of state power, as the Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger explains in an account of the assorted threats he received from “shadowy Whitehall figures”, culminating in a raid by GCHQ on his offices and the destruction of computer hard drives.
Also in the Guardian, columnist Simon Jenkins (who can hardly be dismissed as a dangerous lefty) explains how the term ‘terrorist’ is being applied loosely by the state to hoover up any person or data it wants, under the catch-all justification of the ‘war on terror’. Jenkins concludes, “It is simple harassment and intimidation”.
The question now for Liberal Democrats is why the reaction of their party has been muted, to put it mildly. After all, this is the sort of civil liberties issue that would normally unite the party from left to right.
On his blog, Mark Pack asks this very question. Mark bends over backwards to be fair but nevertheless finds the leadership’s muted response strange.
The likeliest explanation is that this non-response is all of a piece with the narrative Nick Clegg has constructed about being ‘grown up’ and his repeated (and unfounded) attacks on party members as allergic to power, which Alex Marsh analysed on his blog and I analysed here. After all, if civil liberties were considered a ‘grown up’ issue, Clegg would have been quick to take a stand. But if raising such concerns does not fit with Clegg’s tendentious definition of political maturity, then he will steer clear. We should not forget that Clegg is building up to a series of stage-managed confrontations with the membership at next month’s party conference, and events must be considered in this context.
If you find that analysis unconvincing, consider a report in today’s Independent, where the remarks of one anonymous ‘ally’ of Clegg are reported:
One said there were now some “totally irrational people” in the party who would not accept another coalition with the Tories under any circumstances.The leader’s overriding consideration appears to be a desire to maintain a coalition with the Tories after the next general election. Abandoning the party’s traditional concerns for civil liberties can therefore be justified in terms of a muscular pragmatism. But maybe Clegg or Jeremy Browne could surprise everyone by remembering why our party exists, condemn the tactics of the police state, and prove me wrong?
In the meantime, Sarah Ludford MEP has just announced on Twitter (@SarahLudfordMEP) that she is gathering support for an emergency motion at September’s party conference.
Postscript: More on this topic from Jonathan Calder.