Secret Courts..what does the party do now?

Its’s not been the easiest 24 hours to be a Liberal Democrat. It was very hard to watch the majority of our MPs vote to remove the right to a fair trial in civil cases where national security is deemed to be a factor.  Just seven MPs voted in favour of amendments advised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The fact that the JCHR had a different view from the Government should surely have raised a huge red flag. An even bigger signal that our MPs were on the wrong course was the fact that Labour were voting in favour of the JCHR amendments. The Bill as it stood was too illiberal for the Party who thought it was ok to lock people up for 3 months without charge.

I spent a bit of yesterday talking to some MPs. I appreciated the time they spent discussing with me but despaired at the way they had swallowed some of the lines they had been given on the Bill. I was asked what my response would be to the “we’re paying money to terrorists and can’t prove our innocence” line. Well, my instinctive counter to that was to say:

If I’m suing you cos you tortured me and you put up a defence that I can’t see, how am I supposed to let the Judge know that you are talking hogwash?

I have been told today that a Very Clever Person thinks that’s a good summary of what this Bill means, and why the shredder is the only place for it. There is no amendment that can make it acceptable.

Locking people up is not a joke

I watched the debate in the House of Commons with growing despondency. There was far too much hilarity and levity in the Chamber as MPs discussed a serious change to the judicial system. At one point, our Dr Julian Huppert asked a very important question of Ken Clarke  about whether the Bill covered civil habeas corpus – whether people could be locked up without being told the reason why. Clarke didn’t  know and he laughed about the fact that he had to get it checked out. You would think he would have come prepared for that sort of question knowing that it was a key concern of many people.

I was also amazed that the Speaker chose not to allow a vote on the amendment to delete the provision for CMPs. To deny Parliament a say on such a fundamental principle strikes me as very wrong.

Where do we go from here?

The next vote on this Bill is in the Commons on Thursday night. We know we’ll lose one of last night’s rebels, Tim Farron, because he’s away. I don’t know how any of the others intend to vote. I hope they will continue their opposition even though there is little chance of the Bill being defeated in the Commons. It then returns to the Lords where we can hope that they do the decent thing and vote it down. I think our members of the House of Lords will find themselves very popular at the weekend in Brighton. You might want to acquaint them with the comments of the country’s most senior judge Lord Neuberger:

Anybody interested in justice and democracy will be very troubled by any legislation which involves having hearings which are closed in the sense of not open to the public because the public should see what’s going on, and possibly even more concerned about cases where one party cannot see the evidence which the other party is showing to the judge.

Bridging the gap

There is no getting away from the fact that there is a huge gap between what all but 7 MPs (and a few absentees) did last night and what most activists wanted them to do. These sorts of events are inevitable in a coalition, but we need to be very careful that a falling out doesn’t turn into a massive disconnect between grassroots and leadership. That would be disastrous for a party that depends more than any other on its activists. For a start, they need to imagine what would have happened if hundreds of people hadn’t put their lives on hold and gone to Eastleigh, phonebanked and donated money. Would we still have won? I think not.

I anticipated that there would be difficulties along this  road way back in 2010 when the Coalition was first formed and I gave ministers some friendly advice. It would do them no harm to read it. They have a bit of making up to do at the moment and they need to tell a despairing party how we can regain our civil liberties credentials after last night.

* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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100 Comments

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 2:16pm

    The fact that most LibDem MPs have a different view to LDV ought also to raise a red flag. So many misinformed articles on the same thing! Are you really reflecting LibDem values here, or are you on a trip of your own?

  • mike cobley 5th Mar '13 - 2:31pm

    “Are you really reflecting LibDem values here, or are you on a trip of your own?”

    Oh, hilarious! Please, Richrad, stop, stop, or I might find myself laughing up my ribcage.

    Where in the pantheon of Liberal Democrat values are we okay with such authoritarian measures as secret courts (or indeed the malicious sanctions currently being inflicted upon benefit claimants of all kinds)? What high-minded liberal principles are served by making it easier for a government to conduct its business in a manner not unlike that of other nations we have strenuously criticised in the past? None is, I believe, the answer.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 5th Mar '13 - 2:36pm

    Well, if you look around the Lib Dem blogosphere, you’ll see LDV is not alone, by any stretch of the imagination.

    Nor was I imagining the enormous margin by which the No Government above the law motion passed at Conference last year.

    The motion I submitted to Scottish Conference had no trouble finding well over the 25 required signatures, and it was very much a last minute affair.

    The letter in yesterday’s Mail ended up with over 130 signatures – and we were collecting them only for a few hours from late on Saturday.

    In fact, Richard, your view would appear to be the minority one here. And how can wanting a fair and open justice system be contrary to liberal values.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Mar '13 - 2:44pm

    I don’t believe in cherry picking values and creating an ideology. We should value national security as highly as civil liberties. I don’t like the idea of “secret courts”, but I trust our MPs had sufficient reason to vote accordingly.

    We need to stop walking around like programmed ideologues and get in the real world. The vast majority of the population will not care about this piece of legislation and there’s another group of people in the world who would love to see us wiped off the face of the earth.

  • @Caron
    “If I’m suing you cos you tortured me and you put up a defence that I can’t see, how am I supposed to let the Judge know that you are talking hogwash?”

    Brilliant summary and one I will be shamelessly pinching when discussing this with friends and colleagues….

  • If the right to see evidence that is to be used in a case to which you are a participant is just a minor civil liberty that has to be “balanced” (i.e., cancelled) every time the government cries “terrorism” or “plot,” then haven’t we moved right back to the 17th century? Which liberties are the next on the chopping block? It seems so easy to remove them: all one has to do is to create a pervasive sense of fear, and people will willingly offer up their rights on the altar of expediency.

  • Jeremy Pursehouse 5th Mar '13 - 3:10pm

    There is no such thing as secret justice.

  • “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Mar '13 - 3:33pm

    Hi Dave, I’m not attacking the people who voted for or against the legislation because I don’t know enough about the details. What I was attacking was the ideological undertones of the post that makes out this is some sort of great betrayal of the Liberal Democrats.

  • My best friend’s husband is a LibDem Councillor. He is intending to resign as a Councillor and as a LibDem Member as a result of this – which he considers betrays the core principle of being a LibDem.

  • @Steve Way:
    @Caron
    “If I’m suing you cos you tortured me and you put up a defence that I can’t see, how am I supposed to let the Judge know that you are talking hogwash?”

    Brilliant summary and one I will be shamelessly pinching when discussing this with friends and colleagues….
    —————-

    Me too Steve!

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 3:49pm

    It is not a LibDem value that all government is bad, or that government should not be allowed to defend itself, or that national security is a side issue. These are not “secret courts” in the colloquial meaning, they don’t involve people being prosecuted and imprisoned. Habeus corpus remains protected, not least because judges sit in on the hearings and are required to ensure justice is done.

    I’m surprised that Mark V doesn’t understand that his role as an elected representative is to represent constituents, it is not to represent the small section of the LibDem party that turns up at conferences. I am surprised that Caron L believes that the blogosphere is anything other than a tiny section of public or LibDem opinion. Perhaps Mark and Caron need to revise the topic of representative democracy soon? And go out into the real world. In what sense are they accountable?

    Dave Page is quite right that national security is not at odds with civil liberties – quite the opposite, national security is one of the things that helps protect our civil liberties. In today’s world of huge profits to be gained from drugs, trafficking, and civil strife, you can go to any country without an effective police and security service and you will see how bad things can get without national security. I do empathise with Jeremy, but this is the real world we live in, not a dream.

    David has simply misunderstood the bill – it is not the government crying terrorism or plot, it is the government crying national security. And the bill makes it monumentally plain that the judge must be satisfied that national security is at risk. If not, in accordance with the bill, some other procedure must be followed.

    Those who ignore Safety end up without any Liberty at all. Worse, they not only confine themselves to enslavement, they confine others there too.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 4:11pm

    Unfortunately, Giselle, Caron is mistaken. Her special advocate will see the government’s defence, and will be able to explain to the judge why it is claimed to be hogwash. Of course it is for the court to decide whether Caron’s view is correct or not. We should not automatically take Caron’s word for it. Because in the real world. litigants sometimes lie!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 5th Mar '13 - 4:21pm

    Actually, Richard, no. My Special Advocate will not be able to tell me the defence, so I won’t be able to tell them why it’s hogwash for them to tell the Judge. This puts me at a considerable disadvantage. This will be why special advocates oppose this legislation.

    And, also, I don’t spend my entire life in some sort of vicarious online existence. I see a lot of people. Not one member of the Liberal Democrats I’ve met outside the parliamentary parties and you is in favour of this.

    Giselle, your best friend’s husband will be making a huge difference to people’s lives as a Lib Dem Councillor. I understand his frustration, but I also balance that with the many good things the Lib Dems are doing in Government and the fact that the party as a whole actually opposes this legislation. If everyone who is upset about this leaves, what’s left. Where’s the liberal voice in this country? I’d welcome the chance to talk to him – please ask him if he’d be willing to email me totally confidentially at [email protected]. Many thanks.

  • Its becoming hard to recognise some Lib Dems – apparently its ok to use arguments that voting for this and that policy will win votes so its ok, or that the public doesn’t really care about the issue, so what’s the big fuss.

    On that basis the government might as well have a vote on banning all immigration, bringing back the death penalty and sending all welfare claimants to a small island in the Atlantic. There, that will win some votes, and perhaps not enough people really care for it to matter, and the Lib Dem MP’s can vote for it too.

    What really annoys me is how passionate members were when opposing ID cards, and how fundamental liberties can be argued away once in power.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 4:32pm

    Caron, don’t you think that’s a bit paranoid? Special Advocates are not idiots, they’re clever enough to find a way to make your case without divulging the sensitive information – that’s what their skill is and that’s why they’re paid.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 4:34pm

    What might be left, Caron, is a party with three key characteristics: liberal, democratic, and electable to office.

  • Richard, there’s nothing liberal or democratic about a government which is unaccountable to the citizens and to the law.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Mar '13 - 4:45pm

    Peebee, I am actually a passionate believer in protecting minorities which I think is very important in a democracy. My attack was on ideology.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 4:51pm

    I suggest that Giselle’s best friend’s husband needs to remind himself what local democracy is about. He was elected as a local councillor, to handle local issues. He made some promises in order to get elected, and he has a responsibility to that electorate for local issues, not national ones. Now he’s intending to go back on those promises and responsibilities, for a reason that is nothing to do with what he was elected for. I imagine that he is sincere, but I suggest he is mistaken and needs to think again – as a local and not national councillor, it would be wrong for him to resign over this national issue.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 4:54pm

    There’s also nothing liberal or democratic about a party that refuses to allow a government to defend itself or defend the civil liberties of the population it was elected to serve.

  • “Special Advocates are not idiots, they’re clever enough to find a way to make your case without divulging the sensitive information – that’s what their skill is and that’s why they’re paid.”

    The problem is that the Special Advocates can’t divulge the information to their client so can’t get any information as to why it might be complete nonsense. They can’t get round that by “dropping hints” as they are under professional oblilgations and duties as officers of the court (which supercede their duty to their client) not to do so.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 5:29pm

    Hywel – a competent advocate should be able to resolve that problem, it should be part of their required skillset. It’s probably rare that clients understand everything that goes on in litigation anyway, so all advocates whether special or not have to have the skill of extracting information from clients without the client necessarily being told everything.

  • The idea that the government can “defend the civil liberties of the population” by taking them away is rather reminiscent of destroying the village in order to save it.

  • Richard – you are completely failing to grasp the point.

    It has nothing to do with skillset. A competent advocate CANNOT resolve that problem because it would require them to disclose information from the withheld evidence to their client. That puts them in breach of their duty to the court.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 6:06pm

    No, Hywel, I am not. A competent advocate CAN resolve the problem because they CAN find a way of doing so that DOES NOT require them to disclose sensitive information. That is basically what they are for!

  • @Caron “Giselle, your best friend’s husband will be making a huge difference to people’s lives as a Lib Dem Councillor. I understand his frustration, but I also balance that with the many good things the Lib Dems are doing in Government and the fact that the party as a whole actually opposes this legislation. If everyone who is upset about this leaves, what’s left. Where’s the liberal voice in this country? I’d welcome the chance to talk to him – please ask him if he’d be willing to email me totally confidentially at [email protected]. Many thanks”. Will do so Caron, thanks, – think it may be too late as letters have been posted but ….

    @Richard Dean 5th Mar ’13 – 4:51pm “I suggest that Giselle’s best friend’s husband needs to remind himself what local democracy is about. He was elected as a local councillor, to handle local issues. He made some promises in order to get elected, and he has a responsibility to that electorate for local issues, not national ones. Now he’s intending to go back on those promises and responsibilities, for a reason that is nothing to do with what he was elected for. I imagine that he is sincere, but I suggest he is mistaken and needs to think again – as a local and not national councillor, it would be wrong for him to resign over this national issue” – I don’t think my friend’s husband believes that this issue, which he relates to LibDem’s core purposes, is purely a national issue – it’s a LibDem issue. He is a decent, honourable man and I would trust him further than I would you. Signing out now!

  • Martin Pierce 5th Mar '13 - 6:43pm

    I think Richard Dean is actually an avatar invented by Tory Central Office to suck up Lib Dem activists’ time replying to his posts.

  • Ok then Richard explain how, because a number of pretty eminent QCs reckon they can’t and this is why they are very critical of the process

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 7:20pm

    A number of pretty eminent QC’s have a great self-interest in making everyone think their task is difficult. A difficult task requires special skills, doesn’t it, and so requires special respect and, of course, special fees! :-) Laughing all the way to the bank?

  • Well there are quite a few who won’t take on the role of Special Advocate for just this reason, fees or no fees.

    But instead of engaging in bar room humour (and I use the term advisedly) why don’t you address yourself to the question:
    “How does a special advocate defend his client when he can’t tell his client what evidence is being put against him?”

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 8:02pm

    Duh! I am not a Special Advocate, Hywel. Look at the rags I wear! :-) . Alex Marsh is at last getting the picture right.

  • I give up.

    But as a parting thought I suggest the party should take the word ‘Liberal’ out of its name and let someone else use it.

  • Hywel

    Haven’t you been following what Richard Dean has been saying. The Specal Advocate has equally special powers which can communicate hidden information to the client and then receive their rebuttal, presumably through a process of osmosis. Richard has no idea how this can be done in practice but without a doubt a Special Advocate CAN do this because that’s their job, you see. Now do you understand? So you see, there really is nothing to worry about. Richard Dean says so, therefore it must be true.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 9:29pm

    You need only look to the proposed Revised Preamble, Alix, which includes the following, in which I have capitalized some particularly relevant words:

    “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, with a PROPER BALANCE of … liberty, equality and community, … no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance, fear, disease, FALSEHOOD, or conformity.

    We believe that democracy is the only fair form of government, and that authority … derives from the people. …. We believe that DEMOCRACY MUST BE PROTECTED …
    http://www.libdemvoice.org/julian-huppert-mp-writesthe-preamble-25-years-on-33497.html#comment-241930

    So, as you can see, CMP is a part of the proper balance that provides litigants with a way of holding government to account, which is one way of protecting our democracy, while not breaching national security, which is another way of protecting our democracy.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 9:34pm

    Very amusing, :-) -:o :-) Phyllis, but let us not be too naïve about the special advocates. They get paid to be clever, and they are. They have to be to be able to have so effectively pulled the woll over the eyes of so many good and otherwise clever people about this issue.

  • Tony Dawson 5th Mar '13 - 9:34pm

    @Richard Dean :

    “The fact that most LibDem MPs have a different view to LDV ought also to raise a red flag.”

    Richard, you are suggesting all MPs vote according to what they think. Not a reliable supposition.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 9:42pm

    Alix, you probably need to ask Phyllis, she is very wise and has a sense of humour, or else ask a special advocate!

    But basically, I suspect, you betray the cause of liberal democracy by doing something against the Preamble, such as by not allowing a person to question a democratically elected government, or by not allowing a democratically elected government to defend itself against spurious attack.

    In this way, voting against the bill would have been such a betrayal, because it goes against the idea of safeguarding and defending democracy, though of course we always allow for simple mistakes by 7 MPs or so.

  • Grammar police 5th Mar '13 - 9:56pm

    I am no supporter of the CMP system; but I wonder what alternatives there are in terms of process that would allow the Government to defend claims in ways it wants to? The only answe r I can come up with is that possibly it should just let such claims go if it’s not willing to share the evidence to properly furnish its defence.

    Here’s hoping we get some answers at Conference. Perhaps we should also ‘Call Clegg’!

  • I think it belongs to that class of humour which is so subtle that nobody “gets it,” not even the joker.

  • Alix “Is Richard Dean some kind of in-joke you guys have made up while I haven’t been around?”

    You’re lucky you missed the Same-Sex Marriage Thread.

  • Grammar Police “Perhaps we should also ‘Call Clegg’!”

    Well why not? He has already had Boris Johnson and Cathy Newman from C4 News ringing him. LDV next. Or perhaps Jo Shaw – since he refused to meet with her.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Mar '13 - 10:09pm

    Hi Alix,

    I have not studied the detail of the policy but from the outline I can say that I do not regard it as a great betrayal of the public and therefore I do not regard it as a great betrayal of the Liberal Democrats. Sure, we may have members who disagree with it, but we shouldn’t approach issues with ideological blinkers on. It is deeply unhealthy for us to have concerns and opinions that do not match those of the wider public. I do not wish to discuss this further.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 10:09pm

    You guys have me in stitches!

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Mar '13 - 10:38pm

    Alix, sorry if I sounded rude, I see myself as a centrist more than a liberal and that explains my posts.

  • “Being guided by political principle only rarely aligns with populist politics.”

    Well, I really wasn’t going to post here again, but I have to point out that the Daily Mail has, in its own words, been leading “criticism of plans to allow so-called ‘closed material procedures'”.

    For Christ’s sake, the Daily Mail has been campaigning against this grotesquely illiberal nonsense, while the Lib Dem party leadership has been blithely nodding it through! What would it require for the membership to take effective action in defence of liberal principles? I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard that the membership aren’t going to stomach this or that, and NOTHING ever happens. The only rational answer is to give democratic politics up as a bad job, and I can’t tell you how sad that makes me feel…

  • David Wilkinson 6th Mar '13 - 5:48am

    16 comments out of 55 from Richard Dean, why do people waste their time even trying to discuss issues with a blinkered person.
    You are all wrong and he’s right, all of the time.

  • Mark Inskip 6th Mar '13 - 8:18am

    @ David Wilkinson “16 comments out of 55 from Richard Dean, why do people waste their time even trying to discuss issues with a blinkered person.”

    He seems to take great joy in posting comments to contradict and argue with others and all times of day an night. However his contributions are hardly the most insightful, intellectually coherent or consistent and often he demonstrates little or no grasp of the subject. I’d suggest you’re best ignoring him rather than letting him wind you up.

  • Robert Leslie 6th Mar '13 - 9:36am

    I e-mailed Nick on this matter and received a reply from someone in his office . The reply was long and gave excuses for the support of the offending section. I then sent the following be-mail to Nick and his member of staff.
    dear sir
    I would like to remind you and Nick Clegg that the supreme policy making body in the liberal democrats is the conference of the party. Conference has ruled on this matter, anybody actively opposing party policy could find themselves being charged with bringing the party into disrepute.
    You and Nick Clegg seam to come from a different background then I do . I believe in open trials before a jury ,They should never rely on a decision made by one person , whoever that person is. As I was born and brought up in South Africa I have seen the results of one person making decisions in secret. I am opposed to all secret trials or parts of a trial.
    I still intend to attend the Scottish Conference to support motion SC2 which includes the following clause
    A pledge to repeal Part II of the Justice and Security Act (if so enacted) to be included in the Liberal Democrat manifesto for the next General Election.
    Robert Leslie
    The question is asked what does the party do now?
    There is discipliner action available .

  • Steve Griffiths 6th Mar '13 - 9:57am

    As a former Lib Dem activist and councillor reading through this thread, (which became ‘Richard Dean Speaks’ for most of it), I am left with a great sense of sadness. Issues like opposition to secret courts were at one time core values of the party I joined all those years ago and believed (I realise now naïvely) that we would retain those values if we were ever returned to national government. Hardly makes me desperate to re-join a party that appears to have lost its soul – or at least its MPs seem to have lost theirs.

  • David Evans 6th Mar '13 - 12:10pm

    @ Chris.

    I agree totally with you this, except for “The only rational answer” bit, to which I would say “Don’t get mad, get even.”

  • Can I mildly suggest to our parliamentarians that their voting habits would be more explicable to posters on LibDemVoice if they (our parliamentarians) participated rather more in on-line debate here

  • Richard Dean 6th Mar '13 - 2:34pm

    David Wilkinson. Perhaps it’s because the issues I raise are relevant and difficult for 39 out of the 55 to deny. But it is nice to know that my position is supported by 50 out of 57 Members of Parliament. How’s that for majority view?

  • Steve Griffiths 6th Mar '13 - 3:52pm

    Well I wasn’t going to add anything further to this thread, but in view of Richard Dean’s last post, I feel I have to.

    Richard, these matters may be relevant, but they are certainly not difficult. Either you believe that an accused person should have open justice, or you do not. There are some principles that should be kept sacrosanct, even if that means you become more vulnerable in other ways. I can think of the issue of torture for example, it could be argued (and has been by some) that there is some justification in its use, if those that threaten us could be captured/eliminated by information so obtained. But by resorting to it we then reduce ourselves to a more barbaric level. For me, a civilised and open legal system where evidence can be challenged by both accused and accuser in front of a judge and jury is just such a principle. Clearly your principles and those apparently of most of the current crop of Lib Dem MPs, are rather more malleable than mine.

  • The vote wassn’t 50 Lib Dem MPs in favour with 7 against. At least one of them is abroad trying to get more business for his consituency’s chemical industry, there will be others who didn’t vote for various reasons including the desire to avoid casting a vote either for or against.

  • jenny barnes 6th Mar '13 - 4:59pm

    Richard Dean. Politics – what we’re doing here, I suppose, is about reconciling the irreconcilable. It’s quite clear that your view is not reconcilable with the view that conference overwhelmingly took last autumn. You, and 50 of our parliamentary party, are against LD party policy. Nothing wrong with that – but you should acknowledge the fact. The party seems to have a pretty serious problem, which is that “our” MPs, who many of us campaigned for (I rather wish I hadn’t) seem to think that now they are in parliament LD party policy as decided by conference is irrelevant.

    Your views about how liberty, security, and justice should be balanced may very well be correct, but they aren’t LD policy, however well and often you argue them.

  • Richard Dean 6th Mar '13 - 5:49pm

    There are several LD parts. One part consists of the collection of LD members of parliament. They have one set of LD policies. My views on this issue are in agreement with their views as expressed in their vote, so it is perfectly accurate for me to say that my views are LD policy.

    Another group consists of the delegates at LD conferences, who appear to have a different set of policies. It would therefore be perfectly correct also to say that my views are not in accord with that LD policy.

    How is that for reconciling the apparently irreconcilables? One of the continuing problems, of course, is that the LD party at conference continues to refuse to recognize that there can and are LD policies different from these ones it likes. They need to budge on this – the LD party is split, and you’d better accept that and deal with it because split parties don’t get anywhere much in elections.

    In many cases I expect that delegates vote broadly in accord with the majority of their local party members, but just as there is a difference between MPs and delegates, we cannot rule out the possibility of a difference between delegates and ordinary members; and indeed I am one such ordinary member.

  • Richard Dean 6th Mar '13 - 5:58pm

    Steve Griffiths,

    Either you accept that an accused democratic government has the right to defend itself, or you do not.
    Either you accept that an accused government must respond, so you support CMP, or your don’t and don’t.
    Either you believe in democracy and are willing to defend it, or you don’t and aren’t.
    Either you wish to protect the people against spurious individual claims, or you couldn’t care less.
    Either you look outwards into the real world and see what’s there, or you look inwards and don’t.
    Either you see and dream and act, or you fool yourself and don’t.

  • jenny barnes 7th Mar '13 - 9:36am

    the LD party is split, and you’d better accept that and deal with it because split parties don’t get anywhere much in elections.

    It appears to be split between the party and the MPs. As others in this thread have said, I find it difficult to see why anyone should actively campaign to elect MPs who then ignore the policies that the activists thought they were campaigning for. Most people are in politics to achieve some social change, although some are clearly in it for personal/career reasons. Those who are trying to achieve social change must look to see whether their actions, and the party they support, are furthering those aims. On this issue, for the majority of the party, it seems not.

  • Richard Dean 7th Mar '13 - 10:45am

    Jenny. Yes. People do need to ask themselves that. But there are a couple of other considerations too.

    One is that few people get everything they want in this life, so this question also is one of balance. If you select MPs and then remove all independence and initiative from them, you’ll be acting against your own principles of freedom and conscience. You’ll get good strong MPs resigning and end up with a set of useless yes-person dunces. So the question is not “Does the MP follow my every wish?”, but “Do I get most of what I want?” Or perhaps even “Do I get more of what I want than if I had supported some other party?”

    Another is that LD’s are losing vote share to UKIP. Why? One possible answer is the ridiculous spectacle of disagreement and strife that activists create and the media avidly report at conferences. Another is that the party may also be split between the parts that vote at conference and the ordinary members like me who can’t get to conferences. Ordinary members of any organization often tend to go with the visible leadership, which in this case is a handful of MPs. Your activists activities may actually be putting people off voting LD!

  • Richard Dean 7th Mar '13 - 11:21am

    I see your point Dave. But I’m an ordinary voter. I see strife created by LibDem activists. When I decide whether to vote for a LibDem parliamentary candidate, I ask myself “Is this person strong enough to stand up for what is right, rather than cave in to whoever shouts loudest?” Mike Thornton is a very nice person, for example, but is he so nice that he can’t be the unbiased critical thinker that I want as MP? Is he strong enough to vote for the correct way forward even when all his activists think differently?

    This is a very old argument. I remember it in the pre-LibDem pre-SD Labour party. In a sense it’s what led to LD’s in the first place. Is there anything in the LD Constitution that positively prohibits MPs from voting the way they believe is right, in situations when what they believe is right is not the same as what party activists believe is right?

  • Richard Dean 7th Mar '13 - 11:56am

    It’s perhaps also worth remembering that an MP is elected by voters in order to agitate and represent and vote on behalf of the MP’s constituents – ALL of them, not just the ones who voted LibDem, certainly not just the local LD activists, and most certainly not just the LD activists who came from elsewhere to help.

    In the end, the Constitution presumably allows for constituency parties to de-select an MP? If so, it really isn’t a conference that calls the tune after all. It never has been, and never will be if the party’s Preamble about local decision making is adhered to.

  • “Is this person strong enough to stand up for what is right, rather than cave in to whoever shouts loudest”

    At the moment, Lib Dem MPs are seen as caving in to the Tories on almost everything.

  • It’s a strange strategy to alienate the majority of your own supporters to appease the rest of the electorate – especially those who are never going to vote for you anyway. Hang on to your own supporters first.

  • Richard Dean 7th Mar '13 - 1:06pm

    MPs really are elected to represent ALL their constituents Phyllis. That’s called democracy.

  • jenny barnes 7th Mar '13 - 2:49pm

    Actually, they are elected to do their best for the country.

  • Richard Dean 7th Mar '13 - 3:15pm

    I don’t know where you get that idea from, Jenny. Parliament is a collection of representatives of constituencies.

    Every voter probably knows what “liberal” and “democrat” means. We are taught it in school, or ought to be. Liberal means you let it happen unless it’s bad, and democrat means the electorate get to decide which things are bad and which are good. It follows that everyone knows what a LibDem policy looks like, and that no-one in the electorate needs a LibDem conference to decide that for them.

    So, as far as an ordinary voter like me is concerned, the role of conference is not to set policy at all. I already knw what policy is liberal and democratic, and what is not. Instead, the role of conference is to support the LibDem MPs, by anything from simple moral support to ideas about how to implement those LibDem policies that I recognize from my common understanding of the words “liberal” and “democrat”.

    Well, this means that all the shenanigans at LibDem conferences, that are so avidly reported in the press, simply turn me away from voting LibDem. Who would want to vote for an MP who bends my common understanding to that kind of harassment? I want my LibDem MP to be a liberal and democrat, in my common sense. I do not the MP to be a tool of a conference that decides that “liberal” and “democrat” mean something else entirely.

  • Richard Dean 7th Mar '13 - 3:17pm

    Last sentence – insert “want” after “not”

  • Lib Dems voting for secret courts is akin to Tories voting for nationalisation or UKip voting for the Euro.

  • “MPs really are elected to represent ALL their constituents Phyllis. That’s called democracy.”

    On that basis we would have public hangings.

  • Richard Dean 7th Mar '13 - 5:14pm

    Ah, but politics is all about “reconciling the irreconcilable”! – Jenny Barnes, 2013 :-)
    http://www.libdemvoice.org/secret-courtswhat-does-the-party-do-now-33541.html#comment-242500

    You are welcome to abandon me Alex. I am just an ordinary voter, not an important player in your stellar view, I guess.

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Mar '13 - 5:33pm

    Ah but Phyllis, that is my problem with ideology: it leads to the Conservative Party privatising the railways and utilities when they aren’t competitive markets; the Labour Party nationalising the loss making motor industry; and the Lib Dems wanting to join the Euro.

    I would say I was in favour of the principle behind the legislation but only in exceptional circumstances. However I did not know conference had voted against it so I respect their wishes. The leadership should have kicked up a fuss in public over this and relented only in return for an additional one of our policies being included in the budget. I don’t remember seeing a top to bottom fuss.

    I don’t mean to drag the debate on, I was just not aware of the conference vote.

  • Richard Dean 7th Mar '13 - 6:14pm

    This really is pretty basic stuff. Democratic electorates elect MPs in part to represent them, and in part to lead. We want our MPs to be full human beings, not party hacks, and we accept and require that they have freedom and conscience. We accept their leadership on some issues, like hanging.

    As Eddie Sammon suggests, establishing and approving policy does not mean inventing policy or deviating from what is commonly understood to be liberal and democratic.

    So the idea that LibDem MPs should have no freedom to deviate from illiberal and undemocratic policies determined by an anonymous and fallible conference, and no freedom to think or exercise leadership or be different, is the very opposite of what we in the electorate want, the very opposite of what the words liberal and democratic mean to us.

  • David Evans 7th Mar '13 - 6:23pm

    @ Richard Dean
    “Every voter probably knows what “liberal” and “democrat” means. We are taught it in school, or ought to be. Liberal means you let it happen unless it’s bad, and democrat means the electorate get to decide which things are bad and which are good. It follows that everyone knows what a LibDem policy looks like, and that no-one in the electorate needs a LibDem conference to decide that for them. “

    I think, probably, perhaps, maybe with caveats, just possibly, I begin to understand where Richard is coming from.

    Richard thinks that he and probably everybody else knows what is meant by the words liberal and democrat. Hence he thinks that he and probably everybody else knows what a Liberal Democrat policy looks like. Hence he thinks liberal democrat policy doesn’t need to be further discussed, explored, explained or defined because it is so self evident.

    I think I can conclude that Richard is not a Lib Dem activist, who knocks on doors and discusses issues with people, because the one thing that Lib Dem activists all know is that while probably everyone knows what the words liberal and democrat mean to them, it is often quite different from what it means to any one else.

    Sadly for Richard, but a joy to all liberals, people are not all the same and do not have exactly the same understandings, and that means that you do need Conference, you do need debate and your understanding needs to be much more nuanced than in Richard’s world.

    Thanks Richard.

  • “I think I can conclude that Richard is not a Lib Dem activist, who knocks on doors and discusses issues with people”

    How would he find the time?

  • Richard Dean 7th Mar '13 - 6:38pm

    What your doorstep experience is telling you, David, is that you are out of touch with voters. That is why they are having to explain to you what these words mean.

  • “However I did not know conference had voted against it so I respect their wishes. ”

    Thanks – that is, after all, democracy.

  • Richard Dean 7th Mar '13 - 7:31pm

    Conference votes are not democracy Phyllis. Votes in the local and national elections are.

  • When have people in local and national elections voted for secret courts? I must have missed that vote. In any case the current voting system is hardly democratic .

  • “‘The Lib Dem Conference is a recognisably democratic event in a sense that the other conferences can no longer claim to be. Policies are proposed, amended, debated and voted on in an impeccable manner’. (Martin Kettle, ‘The Guardian’, 18/09/09)

  • Richard Dean 7th Mar '13 - 8:44pm

    The current national voting system is certainly democratic. We had a referendum not long ago and the people decided they wanted to keep it, by a large margin. It is their decision as to whether or not a system is democratic, no-one else’s – that’s democracy for you!

    Sure the party conference may be democratic as far as conferences go, but that’s not at all the same as democracy in elections for local and national political office. The electorate in the local and national elections is many times larger and many times more diverse than the electorate in conference votes. And remember, we like diversity, don’t we?

    On secret ballots, the point that was missed is that the national electorate want MPs that are both representatives and leaders. On some issues, people want representation. An example is the NHS. On other issues, people want MPs to lead. An example is the CMP issue, which is about achieving an acceptable balance of justice and security. If the issue was put to referendum, I wonder if the democratic decision might actually be to have a lot more CMPs.

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Mar '13 - 9:00pm

    @Caron: ” I spent a bit of yesterday talking to some MPs. I appreciated the time they spent discussing with me but despaired at the way they had swallowed some of the lines they had been given on the Bill.”

    I agree with you about the way the parliamentary party ignore the conference and membership under this coalition but on the above point, why be in despair now? The MPs have swallowed quite a lot – in my own area of interest – they swallowed Gove’s hardline and frankly ideologically-motivated policies and rhetoric more or less whole – trooping through the lobbies quite happily.

    They have form as lobby fodder I’m afraid with a precious few noble exceptions.

  • jenny barnes 8th Mar '13 - 7:52am

    I must congratulate RD on a most successful derail of this thread.
    Question:
    Secret Courts – what does the party do now?

  • Richard Dean 8th Mar '13 - 5:21pm

    Answer – Move on! Sometimes the proper role of MPs is to lead, and the proper role of the party is to adjust. Not always, but sometimes. Moving on has the major advantage of reducing internal strife on an issue that much of the electorate probably support the government on. Moving on will make the party more electable, and, as we all know, not much lasting political change can be achieved in a democracy unless you’re elected.

  • Kevin McNamara 11th Mar '13 - 11:00am

    richard dean, HOW does a party move on from advancing liberal principles? should it even want to?

  • David Evans 11th Mar '13 - 1:49pm

    @Richard Dean

    “What your doorstep experience is telling you, David, is that you are out of touch with voters. That is why they are having to explain to you what these words mean.”

    Shame none of them share your explanation Richard. Dream on.

  • Secret Courts – what does the party do now?

    Simple – deselect the Liberal Democrat MPs who voted for this Bill.

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