Category Archives: Civil Liberties

Coalition Document: Civil Liberties

So, the newspapers are going nutty that we don’t have a majority government – that The Conservatives have to compromise on manifesto commitments. I’m with Chris Addison on this – they didn’t get a majority, so the have to compromise. What is it about that concept they find so difficult? This coalition with the Tories was exactly what Clegg said he’d try to make happen. What are the alternatives? An alliance with Labour would have been too unstable, as would a Tory minority government.

On ‘Have I Got News for You’, Chris Addison found his groove with the following:

"But that’s how coalitions work. I don’t understand how journalists don’t appear to be able to see what the definition of a coalition is. (puts on silly voice) ‘Dose two people don’t appear to be in de same party, how can they be in a coalition?’ It wouldn’t be in a coalition if they were in the same party, it’d be a majority government – you thick bunch of bastards!"

Ian Hislop made my point: "I quite like the idea of the coalition, it neutralises the loonies on both wings".

Julia Hartley-Brewer said: "I thought it was ridiculous, Clegg was just going between the two of them, just trying to get a bit more and a bit more and a bit more."

Addision replied: "But isn’t that what negotiation…. I don’t understand why Journalists find this so hard to understand. (as a journalist:) ‘What was Nick Clegg doing? How dare he try to secure the best possible deal for his party?’ What is WRONG with you people? It’s inane question after inane question."

Hartley-Brewer said ‘Because he’s saying it’s all about the country….’

Addision came back with "Course he’s saying it’s all about the country, ‘cos you people would be right up his jacksie if he didn’t wouldn’t you? If he actually said ‘well it’s all about politics and this is how politics works you bunch of four year olds…..’"

When Hislop and Hartley-Brewer were complaining about Brown staying on, Addison said: "What was he supposed to do? Constitutionally he was the Prime Minister, it was his job to stay on until another job could possibly be formed…. you don’t understand how the country works!"

Some are saying Clegg has ‘betrayed’ their vote by a coalition with Tories. Rubbish. You don’t get to cast a ‘conditional’ vote under First Past the Post. You vote for your MP to make decisions on your behalf. When voting Lib Dem, you are voting for as many Lib Dem policies as your MP can make happen. This way the Lib Dems can get SOME of their policies enacted. Which is surely better than sticking to principles and getting none.

I look at the coalition document, and on the whole I’m very pleased with it. The Tories have taken the sandal wearing edge from the Lib Dem policies, and the Lib Dems have moderated the nuttier Tory fringe.

The coalition document resulting from the agreement between Lib Dems and Tories isn’t perfect, but it has a lot about it that is truly great – and if enacted will address much of the authoritarian streak that was Labour’s legacy. People often see Lib Dems as the natural ally with Labour – forgetting that they differ from Labour as much as they do from the Tories, and in areas like Civil Liberties the Labour party is most decidedly illiberal. The Lib Dems are not ‘Labour-Lite’.

As you may have surmised, the Civil Liberties section is the highlight for me. I was listening to this being described on Radio 4 as I drove home the other day, and I arrived at my destination with a big smile. Here is the relevant section.

The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour government and roll back state intrusion.

This will include:

  • A freedom or great repeal bill;
  • The scrapping of the ID card scheme, the national identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point database;
  • Outlawing the fingerprinting of children at school without parental permission;
  • The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency;
  • Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database;
  • The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury;
  • The restoration of rights to non-violent protest;
  • The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech;
  • Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation;
  • Further regulation of CCTV;
  • Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason;
  • A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

All of which I heartily agree with.

Labour often argued for the retention of the DNA of the innocent as a crime fighting tool, however, if making an arrest on a traffic offence (to use the oft-quoted example), you don’t need a database of the innocent to compare with a database of unsolved crimes.

Similarly, the ID card and their associated database are an expensive salve which wouldn’t address problems without having checks everywhere in day to day life.

Anti Terrorism legislation has been used to eject hecklers from party conferences (hecklers have often been ejected, but using anti terror law?), it has allowed council officials to act as spies.

The right to protest has been severely curtailed under Labour, to the extent that Maya Evans was convicted for reading the names of the Iraq War dead at the Cenotaph.

Libel Law review is long overdue, especially in the area of scientific endeavour and in satire.

It’s true that I did not vote for this coalition document – it’s not perfect, but it’s much better than any of the options which were on the ballot paper.

Blunkett warns over ‘Big Brother’ Britain

Of all people, Blunkett is sounding the alarm.

This was seen on No2ID, quoting the Independent.

Andrew Grice writes in the Independent:

David Blunkett, who introduced the idea of identity cards when Home Secretary, will issue a stark warning to the Government tomorrow that it is in danger of abusing its power by taking Britain towards a “Big Brother” state.

At the 21st annual law lecture in Essex University’s Colchester campus, Mr Blunkett will urge ministers to rethink policy and counter criticism from civil liberties campaigners that Labour is creating a “surveillance society.”

He will come out against the Government’s controversial plan to set up a database holding details of telephone calls and emails and its proposal to allow public bodies to share personal data with each other.

His surprise intervention will be welcomed by campaign groups, who regard him as a hardliner because of his strong backing for a national ID card scheme and tough anti-terror laws. The former home secretary will propose a U-turn on ID cards for British citizens, although he agrees with plans to make them compulsory for foreign nationals.

The first comment hits the nail on the head:

“Oh for goodness sake, you couldn’t make this up. Blunkett ignored all the warnings back then while he was instigating all of these measures. Is he a turncoat, a colossal idiot, or just seriously deluded? Whatever the reality is, I don’t trust him one bit. Suddenly he’s leaning towards our side, is he? Pull the other one!”

Photographing Authorities

I’ve already posted on this topic, but the forthcoming ban has come in so sneakily, and this is such a good article that it needed further dissemination.

I’ve changed the photos used in the original, though I’ve linked to the original where relevant to the text.

It took the News Quiz to alert me to the latest change in the law. The police are to have new powers to stop us taking their photos. They’re using a provision of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008.

Spectating Coppers It’s rapidly becoming impossible to obey the law. Taking a snapshot of a tourist site may turn out to be illegal. More seriously, what would happen if a member of the public witnessed a police officer commiting a crime or abusing police powers and tried to document this by taking a picture? A ban on photographing the police adds to police powers and makes it easier for rogue officers – or rogue forces – to break the law, suppress the evidence and punish the witnesses. This should not be possible in a free, democratic society.

Soon pictures like this will be illegal. Although the police are concealing neither their faces nor their weapons, we’re told that taking their pictures may put them at risk.

The Police Horses make their way home after the Investec Challenge - England vs. France Perhaps I’m old-fashioned. I grew up with a police force that rarely carried weapons, in the days before tasers had been invented. Nowadays even police without guns carry an arsenal of alternative weapons strung about their waists. We’ve come a long way from Dixon of Dock Green and the respect given to a friendly neighbourhood bobby.

I know Dixon was a fiction but the myth gave good policemen a kind of gentle authority. Dixon’s salute at the end of each episode as he bade goodbye to the audience with the phrase, “Evening, all,” suggested a police force that worked with and respected the public. Big guns, tasers and laws that threaten our freedom don’t make me feel that the police respect me. They don’t make me feel safer. They make me feel afraid.

Fuzz at the Freewheel

There hasn’t been much publicity for this latest change in the law but there is a demonstration on Monday 16th February. Press photographers, whose freedom is also threatened, will be taking part and the comedian Mark Thomas will be taking part.

Meanwhile, there’s interesting potential for a conflict of laws. A publican in Islington has been told he must install CCTV as a condition of his licence. But what happens if a policeman enters his pub?

But we shouldn’t worry. The provisions of the Act won’t be abused. We can be sure of thus. The government keeps telling us so.

A fellow contributor to this blog directed me to gizmonaut who, as often, follows this issue far more comprehensively. Evidently a busy week at work prevented me from paying sufficient attention to the blogosphere.


The insidious thing about this law is that it covers photos that show the police in a good light, interacting with the public (as my photos do above) – as well as photos showing police abuses. Neither should be covered by any such law.

The law, like so many others, suffers from vagueness.

‘Of use to terrorists’ could be anything. Already it’s an offence to have material which ‘may be of use to terrorists’.

Who doesn’t have an A to Z, or a map of the London Underground? Which Physics student doesn’t have information on radioactive substances? Which Biologist doesn’t have knowledge of pathogens? What about a tourism photo of Whitehall, or a snap taken on a shopping trip? Or of a local reservoir?

Taking Liberties

The British Library’s “Taking Liberties” exhibition opens tomorrow, and will be open until March. It is free, and should be well worth a visit. There is an interactive online tool which examines a lot of the issueshere.

I previously wrote about this exhibition in August.

Combining this with the Royal Academy‘s Byzantium exhibition could make for a good day out in London.

Now That’s British!

“When Gordon Brown called on the British Library to stage an exhibition about Britishness he perhaps envisaged a patriotic celebration of the national identity. ” begins the story in The Telegraph.

It continues to tell of the new exhibition called ‘Taking Liberties‘ – which is a very British response to such a request from a Prime Minister seeking a publicity tool. It’s an exhibition looking at Civil Liberties in the UK, and how they’ve been slowly but steadily eroded since 1997.

David Davis, the former shadow Home Secretary who recently stepped down from the Parliament to force a by election on the issue of civil liberties, said: “It is an astonishingly good idea but is clearly a snub to the Prime Minister and must be accurately embarrassing for him. Gordon Brown likes to talk about Britishness a lot without understanding that liberty is at the core of Britishness. It is our institutional DNA. Our history and tradition of freedom run longer and deeper than any other country.”


Iconic objects such as the Magna Carta, the death certificate of Charles I and Cromwell’s Oath of Loyalty from 1857 will be on display among less well known items some of which have never been on display before.

The exhibition will open on the 31st October and end on the 1st March 2009. Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it.

The British Library is at St. Pancras – very convenient for tube and rail connections.