A couple of thoughts about the proposed counter-terrorism legislation

I’ve got to be honest, I can’t share Malcolm Bruce’s cautious optimism about the Government’s proposed counter-terrorism measures. Denying our own citizens the right to come back to our country without much mention of testing the evidence against them seems pretty drastic to me. When you consider that it’s likely that some of that evidence is likely to be held in secret and therefore not challengeable by the accused person. We could have situations where young muslim men are denied the right to travel or to return to this country unfairly.

Malcolm says that nobody will be made stateless – but what are they supposed to do with themselves for a couple of years. I suspect there may well be young people who go over there and are so sickened by what they see that they have seen that they want to get back to their family. Being with their family may well be the best place for them.

If people have gone abroad and fought for Islamic State, carrying out atrocities and the like, then try them and if they are found guilty, punish them using the usual judicial process.

What exactly is the rush around all of this? Why can this not wait until after the general election? We’re only a few months away. I don’t think it is a good idea for the Liberal Democrats to rush to back legislation which looks as if it has huge potential for unfairness.

The counter-argument of course, is that if it weren’t for us, the legislation would be so much worse as the Tories and Labour would just stitch it up between them. They could do that anyway, and after the election the House of Commons could look very different. It would be very interesting to see, if there were a larger SNP contingent, whether they would be just as illiberal as Labour. My guess would be that they would be, given their record in Scotland. Frankly, in the absence of a pressing need, why should we take the responsibility for doing something that is counter-intuitive for us? We could use the time to have a public debate based on evidence. Just a thought.

I do appreciate that our lot are in a tough position. I also accept that they are coming to this from a much more liberal angle than anyone else in British politics. It’s interesting that there only seem to be a few measures being talked about, the confiscation of passports and the restrictions on return. I’d heard rumours that the Tories wanted forty plus things. The rock is that we agree to some measures and upset our own activists, the hard place is that we don’t agree on principle and end up being lambasted for six months for being soft on terror. I actually think I’d prefer the hard place with well thought out, practical, examples as to why we have made the decisions we have. The disadvantage with the rock is that the others could portray us as soft anyway. Have you heard Theresa May praising our stance on communications data, lately? No, me neither.  The thing is, the Tories’ case for authoritarian measures usually comes a cropper as we saw when the Daily Fail had to correct nonsense spouted by Chris Grayling on its pages or when Nick complained vociferously to Theresa May when she accused us of  putting children at risk.

We will, of course have to see what the legislation actually says when it is published. Once we know what devils lurk within the detail, we will be in a much better place to make a judgement. Instinctively, though, I can’t feel anything other than a knot in my stomach. I also find it telling that, as far as I can see, Julian Huppert hasn’t said that much about it thus far.

Liberals should always be vigilant about any restrictions on civil liberties. When in doubt be extra liberal is my instinctive reaction. Knee jerk legislation is rarely sensible and I actually can’t see how what is proposed makes us safer.

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

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12 Comments

  • One of these days, we need to recognise it is better to fail at doing the right thing than succeeding at doing the wrong.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 15th Nov '14 - 7:39pm

    That’s a good way of putting it, Sarah.

  • I regret to point out that the party has failed by doing the wrong thing. One MEP and after next May the party will be very lucky to have a dozen MPs. The latter only through the targeting developed by Paddy Ashdown. The LD share of the vote will be half that of UKIP.

    I have met many fine Liberals over the years. However others such as Malcolm Bruce and Danny Alexander have always made me doubt the true stance and direction of the party as the appear to align very closely with Tory policies.

    The electorate think you have sold your soul – why the continued denial?

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Nov '14 - 12:21am

    This is quite insane; and whilst you obviously think so too, Caron, you still seem to want to find consolation in the ” if it weren’t for us, the legislation would be so much worse” line. But that’s just not provable; and at this stage no one can seriously argue that the coalition would come to an end if Lib Dems simply refused to support it or that it would be an objectively terrible thing if it did. There are two arguments for supporting things you don’t like as part of a coalition – the need for a stable government — pretty irrelevant less than six months from the end of this parliament; and the need to get the Tories to support some things that Lib Dems want. But there’s no need and no point in that now, either — does anyone think the party is going to achieve anything liberal on its own intiative between now and May? Just Say No. It’s awful politics and above all it’s just profoundly wrong.

  • People at the top of our party need to read the comments of Julian Gibb and Malcolm Todd and reflect on how four and a half years of Coalitionism has corrupted the thought processes of some of our MPs.

    As Caron says in her opening piece — “..The counter-argument of course, is that if it weren’t for us, the legislation would be so much worse as the Tories and Labour would just stitch it up between them. They could do that anyway……”
    The key words are — “They could do that anyway..”
    Let Conservatives and Labour do it, if we as Liberals cannot dissuade them. Somebody has to make the public argument against authoritarianism. If not Liberals , then who???
    If the current crop of Liberal Democrat MPs are so dazzled by the joys of Coaliton we will have to get a new lot. This lot will have finally shown that they have crossed the line from being Liberals to being the ineffectual soft focus version of Norman Tebbit’s party.
    A message needs to go to each of our MPs and candidates — if they vote for this sort of thing then they can kiss goodbye to any help from Liberal Democrat activists in the next five months.

    Ed Davey was recently at an event in London’s biggest and oldest mosque (built 1926) in which the words from a respected person in Islam seem much more relevant to the problem of Jihadi recruitment. See —
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/15/islam-mosque-imam-ahmadiyya-isis

    Liberal Democrat MPs should stop listening to self-serving spooks and Conservatives like Theresa May. They would be better taking advice from people who are better informed about the sort of young men who are drawn by the pull of what they see as a noble cause. Trying to understand why these young men go to Syria is more likely to bring about a solution than banning them from coming back.

  • What Sarah said

  • A Social Liberal 16th Nov '14 - 11:44am

    If we are not liberal, then what are we? These poposals are anything but liberal.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Nov '14 - 1:24pm

    Caron Lindsay

    Malcolm says that nobody will be made stateless – but what are they supposed to do with themselves for a couple of years. I suspect there may well be young people who go over there and are so sickened by what they see that they have seen that they want to get back to their family. Being with their family may well be the best place for them.

    The likelihood is that anyone who wanted to do this would face a nasty death out there as a “traitor”.

    What we OUGHT to be doing is recognising that many silly and gullible kids are being sucked into this sort of thing, and once in it can’t get out.So we should be considering them as victims and finding ways of rescuing them.

  • CHIS WILLIAMS 17th Nov '14 - 10:24pm

    Sarah/Caron could you please list the consequences of a failure by doing the right thing.

  • Sadie Smith 18th Nov '14 - 5:26pm

    I am uneasy. I hope that the country manages to get a solution which sees a way back in for misguided people.

    When it comes to people who have voluntarily taken on British citizenship, I am also uneasy. They make a very clear pledge of allegiance. Breaking that is also important. One difficulty is that it is tricky believing a repetition.

  • Glenn Andrews 18th Nov '14 - 5:49pm

    The only way I could be cautiously optimistic is if there were no proposed legislation at all…. if the Tories and One Nation are determined to act like reactionary beef-heads to an underwhelming threat we should let them get on with it…. and in the process admonish them for their treasonous attitude toward our freedoms.

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