Left Out Liberal

A left-wing/liberal look at the UK's General Election of 2005.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Game Is Up

So the Lords wilted in the end. Or rather, the party leaders got caught out by Blair offering an almost "sunset clause", and as soon as one of the Tories or Lib Dems accepted it, the other would have no choice to back down as well.

The whole episode shows the dangers of having one party with a huge majority and control of both Houses. Thankfully, we at least have the Lords to act as some kind of the restraint on the Commons. And I do believe that the events of the past few days have set new precedents in our Constitution for allowing the Lords to resist for as long as they think fit, even in the face of the primacy of the Commons, if they believe the Commons is trying to permanently damage the liberties of this country by handing over excessive power to the Executive.

Max Hastings wrote an excellent article in the Guardian today talking about how we cannot trust this government with anything any more, and by trusting them to make a judgement on our civil liberties, we could be making a terrible mistake. He's absolutely right... this is just the thin end of the wedge and it's already quite a dent in the British way of life. The next step will be much worse.

The fact is that this one isn't ever going to leave the statute book. The Tories may claim they have a sunset clause in all but name, but they shouldn't have give up. I'm very disappointed that the Lib Dems and Tories dropped their opposition to this in the way they did. After the excitement of the whole day, and some excellent speeches, the end when it came was an anti-climax. The independent review will be a whitewash, with a few tinkerings at the edges to make it look like Charles Clarke Listens To Opposition And Is Good! - but the Act will stay forever.

The end of liberal democracy is nigh. We can't keep justifying the destruction of civil liberties with the excuse that "we're protecting the greatest liberty: life". That excuse can be used to do anything, including run a militaristic dictatorship. There is arguably little point to life if there are no liberties in to exercise in it.

Blair must be stopped. Fast.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Lords Not Lapdogs

As I type, the House of Commons is once more considering the reasoned amendments made by the Lords when they met once more at 5am. As usual, there's a lot of disgraceful language being used in attempts to bully and scare those opposing, with all the usual "the blood will be on their hands if they do not destroy our centuries of liberty!" nonsense present. John Denham is one of the worst proponents of this kind of lie.

Nevertheless, it's been a fascinating 24 hours. The Lords continue to resist the Commons, and when I went to bed at 1am last night, I was expecting to wake up and check the news this morning to see the Lords had backed down.

Not so. The Lords are opposing, and we're entering constitutional unchartered territory. However, I believe that these issues touch upon vital civil liberties in this country, therefore the Lords is entirely justified in continuing to ask the Commons to think again. This is the nature of our unwritten constitution.

No one really knows where this is going to go. The sunset clause seems the most sensible thing here, and I am hoping the government will finally concede on this. It makes sense to force Parliament to entirely rewrite this piece of trash after one year. Doing so does not "increase the terrorist threat" or "show weakness to terrorists" as the Government is saying. This is one of the worst defences of a bad piece of law that I have ever seen, and it is making me more than a little suspicious that there is something more behind this Bill than the Government is letting on.

The Lords are telling the Commons to think again. Indeed, they are arguing that the Commons should have a chance to examine the Bill at all; all the amendments and proper consideration of the Bill in its current state have been made in the Lords, and the Commons have never had a chance to consider it line-by-line.

The majorities in the Lords are falling. I suspect many of them decided to go to bed, rather than have changed their mind. Hopefully, now it looks like this will return to the Lords later, they will return to cast their vote. They cannot back down on this: these are vital principles of liberty that we are on the brink of waving goodbye to, possibly forever, if no sunset clause is reached. Surely it doesn't make sense that we keep these laws, even if the terrorist threat (which is exaggerated anyway) ever were to disappear. The situation changes. We need this protection.

But these are interesting times. It's good to see a little bit of turmoil every now and then...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Intriguing times...

As the Lords positions itself for another set-to with the Commons, once again we are left wondering where this is all going to go and whether there are ulterior motives behind it.

Peers are currently systematically changing parts of the Government's "anti-terror" Bill, and it could mean there are some tense moments later when someone finally decides to give in. I am hoping that the Government will allow the 12 month sunset clause that has just been voted through.

I've been watching the debate in the Lords for a couple of hours now on the Parliamentlive website and I've been very impressed with the way the Lords are dealing with it in a restrained, careful and thoughtful way. The quality of debate is much higher, and the atmosphere of civility is much better than the rubbish that generally passes for "scrutiny" in the Commons. If this episode ultimately achieves nothing, at least it will help in highlighting the flaws of the whipping system once more, in terms of how little opprtunities for genuine scrutiny it allows.

In that respect, the Lords is performing much better than the Commons these days. It's a strange situation that our elected representatives, supposedly the best we have to offer given that the people want them there, can be such a waste of time and money; and those who are the chums of party leaders, or even those 96 who did favours for the monarch many generations ago, can be the ones performing the most admirably in defending our way of life.

There are rumours floating around that if the Bill gets lost this evening, with the Lords refusing to give way, the government could decide to call a snap election entirely on the issue of security. I was already predicting an atrocious election campaign in April and May, but this would be beyond my worst fears. The scaremongering would be disgraceful, and the debate would be even more reduced to clich├ęs than normal.

Having said that, I hope the Lords can give Blair and chums a bloody nose tonight. The Lords must not give in unless the concessions offered are genuine. The Lords are no fools, and they will not roll over unless the Government offers serious amendments. We will soon see.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Where have all the polls gone ?

It's been some weeks now since an opinion poll came out. This is slightly annoying as a lot has gone on in the last few weeks. I'm very curious to know if any of the discussions on the "anti-terror" legislation are encouraging people to change their votes.

I suspect not. It's probable that the story of Margaret Dixon has done more to affect people's minds than Charles Clarke's chest-thumping. There's not really much political capital that can be made, although it is nice to see the Tories rallying around something and being able to call themselves an Opposition. It can only be good, unifiying experience which should improve their standing for the forthcoming "official" campaign.

It's funny how all the latest shenanigans on the domestic front have pushed out the continued carnage in Iraq. I suspect this is preferable for Blair. While Iraq is not topping the news, people forget and start to think that maybe things are getting better there. They aren't, and the Lib Dems will have to press this one hard to keep it on the agenda. People should not forget how much they were lied to be the government. It's nice to see the Independent are not going to let this go with their story this morning about how Blair broke the ministerial code to keep the legal advice on war from the Cabinet... but there are small voice in the wilderness.

It's perverse that the worse it gets in Iraq, the better it is for the Lib Dems. If anything, that really shows just how many people consider the Lib Dems as nothing more than a protest vote. They are going to struggle this election, and no mistake.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

This bill will now self-destruct

After the Lords had a jolly old second day of amending the bill it has left a lot of people wondering: why did the government propose this legislation in the first place?

It's a good question when you think about it. Now I look back, there was never any doubt that the bill was going to fail in the Lords. The surprise to all was just how high the strength of feeling was there, and the unusual names we saw rebelling. All good news, of course.

But if that's the case, surely the goverment also knew it? I'm convinced Charles Clarke and chums, with their continued "There will be no concessions!" rhetoric (while silently amending the bill) must have known that the Lords were not going to fall for it. They must have known they were going to have to eat humble pie at some point. I refuse to believe that New Labour would be that naive as to think this would go through with no trouble.

So what was it all about? Mere political grandstanding, giving them the chance to say the Tories and the Lib Dems are "soft on terror"? Perhaps they have planned this all along and intend to crash the bill in the next few days, releasing the Belmarsh detainees on March 13th and blaming the Tories and Lib Dems for not getting legislation in place to hold them, once again claiming that they are soft on terror?

The bill returns to the Commons tomorrow. That, and possibly even PMQs, should make it an interesting day.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Cheers Peers?

The House of Lords has been doing some admirable work lately. It really is showing the government exactly how to properly scrutinise legislation, taking time and having serious considered debates before voting with a much relaxed whipping system.

And so they made progress in picking apart some of the key problem parts of the government's anti-terror Bill. I'm not normally a fan of the Lords, but right now I feel they are the country's last hope for defending itself against the lobby fodder Labour MPs.

It was even remarkable that Tony Blair's "mentor" Lord Irvine voted for the rebel amendments. I would have thought he'd be the last person to rebel. It's very good to see the smile wiped off his face, and Lord Falconer, another staunch Blairite.

Further amendments are likely to be made tomorrow. The bill is not going to be recogniseable by the time it reaches the floor of the Commons on Wednesday, where there will be a chance for MPs to consider the Lords amendments. I have no doubt that Charles "No Surrender!" Clarke will have to concede at least one of the amendments. I just hope that the Lords will press hard with their changes and refuse to allow the bill through until they get their way on more than 50% of the changes. I have no doubt that once the bill returns to the Commons, many Labour MPs will abandon the rebellion because they like to come out with the old "the will of the Commons must prevail and so I cannot continue rebelling!" excuse which is normally a sign that they have been leaned on by the whips.

It's going to be interesting to see how this one plays out. The end result will likely be very different to what we had at the beginning.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Same old Sunday

Normally Sunday is a pretty big day politically. For some reason, lots of politicians like to use the Sunday newspapers, or worse, Breakfast with Frost, to announce their latest policy measure.

But not this Sunday. We had a rehash of everything we'd already heard during the week, and the Lib Dems finally decided that they were not going to support the anti-terror legislation barring serious amendment. It's just a shame him and 13 other Lib Dems didn't decide to do that when the government's majority was reduced to 14 the other day.

All week we had been hearing whispers of how the government was going to make "concessions". Then an hour later a spokesman, or a mouthpiece such as John Reid and chums would appear to insist there would be "no concessions". The Tories would get wound up and bay for blood, causing whispers of concessions to be passed around again.

The process repeats itself. It's been a pretty tedious week politically... and I have no doubt this cycle is going to keep going until this bill is finally killed in the Lords next week, or the Tories decide to lose any backbone they may have had and give in. Of course, we did have another chief policeman, Sir John Stevens stirring trouble up again on behalf of the government.

This is also getting stupid. The efforts to scare people into accepting this bill are relentless and they are not going to stop until the government gets its way. These tactics are disreputable and if we give in we're going to open the door to a flood of more of them in the run up to the election on the scale of the US Republican's presidential campaign.