Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Labour Authoritarianism/Lib Dem Achievements in Government

I am absolutely astounded by how quickly some people seem to have forgiven the Labour Party for their incredibly disappointing time in government. They are still the party that took us into war with Iraq, that wanted to introduce ID cards, that pandered to the tabloids on criminal justice and immigration, that led Britain to being monitored by more CCTV cameras than anywhere else in Europe, that attempted to detain terror suspects for 90 and 42 days without trial, that introduced Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection, that introduced control orders, that tried to abolish the 10p tax rate, that introduced child detention, that introduced tuition fees and top-up fees, that continued and expanded PFI, that failed to reform the House of Lords, that failed to regulate the banks... the list goes on and on.

Labour's record on social issues and civil liberties, in particular, is absolutely dreadful. In 2007, Privacy International, a "watchdog on surveillance and privacy invasions by governments and corporations", deemed the UK to be an "endemic surveillance society". They gave the UK the worst ranking in the EU, as well as joint-fourth worst internationally, with only Russia, China and Malaysia with poorer scores.

Labour may have a new leader, but it remains, almost instinctively, an authoritarian party. In his first speech as leader, Ed conceded that mistakes had been made with regard to 90 days detention without trial and "the broad use of anti-terrorism measures for purposes for which they were not intended." However, he also said that these mistakes "undermined the important things we did like CCTV and DNA testing." This suggests to me that he is proud of Labour's terrible record on surveillance and is also proud of the routine holding of DNA of suspects, despite it being declared illegal by the European Court of Human Rights. These do not sound like the words of a liberal and I am yet to be convinced that Labour will make any real efforts to reclaim the tradition of liberty, as Miliband claims he wants.

We should not forget that Ed Miliband also returned Phil Woolas to the frontbench, as Home Office minister no less, despite the furore over his disgraceful election campaign. Ed Balls also remains a dominant figure in the party and is certainly not liberal. In fact, he is widely expected to attack Ken Clarke from the right. His comments on immigration back in June are also strikingly illiberal and populist. Jack Straw, whilst perhaps not a key figure any longer, also wrote a scathing attack on Ken Clarke and his prison policies in the Daily Mail back in June. There are also the likes of Blunkett and Reid. To be taken seriously as having changed, Labour needs to distance itself from these illiberal authoritarians.

As John Kampfner recently pointed out in the Financial Times, the Lib Dems "have a once-in-a-generation chance to put a liberal stamp on public policy. After three decades of relentless authoritarianism under Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Mr Clegg would have been foolhardy to have forsaken the opportunity. He is right to disparage the purity of opposition." This is a chance that we are taking.

Just seven months into the coalition, a lot has already been achieved with regard to reversing Labour's illiberal and authoritarian policies. ID cards have been scrapped, child detention will soon be stopped, prisons are to be reformed, pre-trial custody for terror suspects looks to be reduced to 14 days, Trident renewal has been delayed, the yes to AV campaign has a reasonable chance of success, civil liberties are to be reinforced, the ContactPoint database was switched off in August, the House of Lords looks set to be reformed, and more is set to come.

There have also been achievements in relation to economic policies. The tax threshold has been raised by £1,000, a crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion has been announced, Capital Gains Tax has been increased to 28% for higher rate payers, the link between pensions and earnings has been restored, an independent commission has been set up to look into separating investment and retail banking, a banking levy has been introduced, the pupil premium has been introduced, plans have been announced for 150,000 new affordable homes over the next four years, and so on.

These are just a selection of achievements. For a more detailed and comprehensive look into Liberal Democrat achievements in government, visit http://www.scribd.com/doc/45615933/Lib-Dem-Achievements-in-Government.

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