A quiet word in defence of Alex Carlile

alex carlile2 from bells yard
I fully support the decision of my friend and colleague Caron Lindsay, Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, to initiate a debate on the actions of Lord Carlile in connection with the Counter Terrorism Bill and an amendment (which apparently is still hanging over parliament like the sword of Damocles) which would effectively bring in the Communications Data Bill (or “Snoopers’ Charter”) by a back door/shoe-horn.

I strongly disapprove of those actions, taken by Lord Carlile and a few other peers.

One of the proudest moments of my Liberal Democrat membership was when I sat in the York conference hall as we overwhelmingly passed a motion in favour of a digital bill of rights last March.

It is therefore very disappointing that the Communications Data Bill, which was torn apart by parliamentary committee, is being resuscitated via parliamentary high jinks. (Clutching at straws, perhaps?)

I strongly argue that it is fair comment and totally legitimate for members to call for other members of our party to consider their position as members, as Caron did in the case of Alex Carlile. I simply disagree with such a call. Under our constitution I believe there is no valid case for even remotely considering Lord Carlile’s position as a member. (There may have been some contravention of the House of Lords Lib Dem group standing orders, perhaps). But, more importantly, I believe it is wrong. It is not justified to ask someone to leave the party based on their strongly held and eminently informed views on one subject, notwithstanding the fact that it is a key issue. We disagree, but that is no reason to operate the trap door under the feet of Lord Carlile. We’re a liberal party, for goodness sake. We have our mavericks. We get annoyed by other people’s views sometimes. But that is part and parcel of who we are.

It is not right to judge Alex Carlile on just this one issue and ignore a lifetime of passionate and effective support by him of liberal causes, and of the Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Party.

Tolerating dissent in our ranks is a sign of strength, not of weakness. Scurrying around, crying for someone to be bumped to the cross-benches on a simple, though important, policy disagreement tends to partially cede the relevant substantive area of debate to our opponents.

If we are confident in the strength of our arguments on the Snoopers’ Charter, I don’t think we should have a problem with taking a single maverick head-on, without resorting to questioning their membership of our party.

The Liberal Democrat party would feel a very cold, monochrome and unforgiving place without the likes of Alex Carlile.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is currently taking a break from his role as one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Paul Walter — well said!

    Lord Carlile irritates me enormously and if he had a clue who I was no doubt he would be just as irritated by me.
    However, Ido not at all agree with the approach of the leadership over the last three years of either threatening to or actually forcing Liberal Democrat Peers to shift to the Cross Benches.

    If a more sensible, rational, Liberal and democratic approach was taken Jenny Tonge would be invited back to sit with her colleagues in the party that she is still a member of and to which she has given decades of loyal service.

  • Jonathan Pile 28th Jan '15 - 11:13am

    Well Said Paul ! – I am not in agreement with Lord Carlile over the Snoopers Charter (and other things) but thought it right for Caron to call for him to consider his position since he is supposed to support the party on this vital civil liberties issue. However the strong impression of Caron’s piece was that he should be forced from the party rather than his role because of his views which seems fundamentally illiberal. We are in weaker position today as a party because we have not kept a broad church or big tent for all wings of the party, and allowed one wing (the orange bookers) to predominate. To be balanced however there is just the possibility in this complex area of the balance between civil liberty and national security that he might be right but given the pressure on the party from the “Security at the price of freedom” lobby his interventions have been unhelpful to the greater cause of liberty.

  • Tsar Nicolas 28th Jan '15 - 11:49am

    I agree with you, Paul.

  • Very much agree.

  • Good piece. I think it’s probably true that we all go a bit native over areas that we have worked in or know a lot about and so we should make sure we don’t run the risk of assuming people are right just because they’re an ‘expert’. Most Lib Dems don’t do that with Alex Carlile which is why we’re so critical, but how many times have we said that doctors know best about running the NHS or teachers know best about running education. If someone has particular expertise in an area we should make sure we listen to what they say as they will have knowledge that the rest of us don’t that might help be useful when more people know it but we shouldn’t always blindly follow them either.

  • Julian Tisi 28th Jan '15 - 1:39pm

    Joining the love-in. I agree with Paul and other comments above.

  • James Sandbach 28th Jan '15 - 8:46pm

    Personally I cannot thank Alex enough for taking up, very effectively in the Lords, many of the causes that I’ve campaigned on such as access to justice especially legal aid, vulnerable people in the criminal justice system, penal reform, transgender rights, judicial review (all issues on which he’s shown more backbone than the rest of the Parliamentary Party or been ahead of them) and many other issues on which he’s been both a principled and effective advocate – that doesn’t mean I agree with him on the horrendous snooper’s charter, secret courts and anti-terrorism measures like control orders. Different Liberals have different priorities though and that’s ok!

  • cllr Nick Cotter 28th Jan '15 - 9:43pm

    I’ll join the “Love In” also !! As a Liberal (although no longer Lib Dem) criminal defence crown court advocate, all in favour of civil liberties,I admire much of what Alex Carlile has achieved even recently re: Mr Grayling and his hair-brained proposed Judical Review “reforms”. Rather than have a knee-jerk response to the “Snoopers Charter” Issue, I will actually await to see what Alex Carlile and others contribute towards the debate.

  • Trust Lord Carlile more than the rest of the party put together.

  • Yes agree with Paul. Don’t agree with Lord Carlile on security but you can’t go hounding people out of a party they’ve literally given a lifetime to. Tbh I’m increasingly disappointed with this bang the drum, faux outrage mentality that comes with web discussions. It’s actually quite ugly and not very mature. I thought we’d moved on from that in 2015. Clearly not

  • Stephen Donnelly 29th Jan '15 - 8:56pm

    A consensus.

    I presume most articles submitted are reviewed before publication. There are clearly dangers for a political web site if sufficient checks and balances are not put in place to at least allow some time for reflection before editors publish their own opinions.

  • Brenda Lana Smith 30th Jan '15 - 1:19pm

    Simon Boyd 29th Jan ’15 – 8:01am
    Trust Lord Carlile more than the rest of the party put together.


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