Alex Carlile leaves the Liberal Democrats Lords Group: Why now?

The news that Alex Carlile is going to sit as a crossbench peer rather than a Liberal Democrat is perhaps not surprising.  His views on civil liberties and his passionate advocacy for the state to have greater surveillance powers often put him at odds not just with the Lords group but with the wider party. PoliticsHome says:

Lord Carlile felt the party “was not taking a strong enough line in support of surveillance,” a senior Lib Dem source told PoliticsHome.

“He was unhappy with our stance on the Snooper’s Charter,” the source added. “We made a big thing about voting against the Data Communications Bill and he didn’t like that at all.”

A Lib Dem spokesperson said: “We are disappointed but not surprised at Lord Carlile’s decision.

“He has been at odds with party policy on a number of occasions in recent years, especially over civil liberties.

“We are grateful for his years of service to the party and wish him well in future. “

Why now, though? Nothing has really changed. He’s had these views for a very long time and the party has opposed them for a very long time.  I have certainly thought for some time that it would be better if he was a cross bencher but I didn’t have any expectation that it would happen. In fact, for even voicing such an opinion, I was accused of “grisly soviet intolerance” by the Noble Lord in the comments to that article. 

I don’t think for a minute that you have to agree with every iota of party policy to be a member at any level in this party. If that were the case, I’d have been out on my ear ages ago. However, there are touchstone issues for us, like civil liberties, where it is important that those representing the party publicly are able to put across what the party stands for or at the very least are able not to undermine what the party is trying to do.

In Alex Carlile’s case, it seems that the tensions between him and the Lords group on this issue had somehow become stronger in recent months. The Hansard report of the final debate on the Investigatory Powers Bill in the Lords in October lays them bare. Brian Paddick had moved an amendment which sought to remove internet connection records from the data which was authorised to be acquired in bulk. Immediately, Alex Carlile got up to attack it. In a later exchange with Jonny Oates, Alex Carlile accused his colleague of “playing with language.”

It may be that those seemingly increased tensions led the peer to conclude that his purposes might be better served on the cross benches and he made his decision at the end of the year.

As I understand it, he remains a member of the party. This is probably the best solution all around. He is to be commended for being one of the very few voices in favour of transgender rights back in the ’90s.  He has also taken a particular interest in mental health, particularly in young people, before it was fashionable to do so, getting involved in the establishment of the charity Rekindle in his former constituency.  His work on those issues shows that he has a huge amount in common with his fellow Liberal Democrats.

As I understand it there is no rancour on either side, just a recognition that the disagreements over such a key issue had become increasingly insurmountable. Both peer and group are now free to pursue their divergent courses.





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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Richard Underhill 14th Jan '17 - 5:11pm

    The implication is, of course, that he knows something/s that others do not, despite the Freedom of Information Act, reductions in the delays built in to the Official Secrets Acts, Cabinets which leak like sieves and a profusion of spin doctors.
    Has he written an autobiography?

  • paul barker 14th Jan '17 - 5:45pm

    Thanks for reminding us of the “Grisly Soviet Intolerance” remark. The image of Caron on a poster with the slogan “Big Sister is watching you” flashed across my mind – scary!
    There are a few other LD Peers who perhaps are not as important as they think they are & would be happier on The Crossbenches ?

  • Leekliberal 14th Jan '17 - 6:47pm

    Thanks Caron for a typically generous and balanced contribution on Lord Carlisle.

  • “Grisly Soviet intolerance” is certainly not a phrase I’d use in relation to Caron! However I do recall some very intolerant language used here and elsewhere by others in relation to Alex Carlile [the theme was “not a true liberal”]. I disagreed with him in some matters, but agreed on many more and am saddened by his departure. He has been a great servant to the party and we should all wish him well.

  • Neil Mackinnon 14th Jan '17 - 7:27pm

    Whenever I hear it said, be it the Lords or a council group, that x will sit as a crossbencher or independent but retain their party membership I think how disingenuous they are. It’s trying to have your cake and eat it. You are either in a political party or you are not.

  • My (unbalanced) comment is, I am very surprised it hasn’t happened previously. For me, the interesting point is – Who was the “spokesperson”?

  • Tony Dawson 14th Jan '17 - 8:53pm

    I think it is true that Alex Carlile still had/has a lot in common with Lib Dems still at his time of departure. There were one or two matters where he was very much at odds. We have to remember that all political parties are coalitions in which each member makes his/her compromises with a set of prevailing Party views which themselves are sometimes in some flux.. At the end of things, each person decides when the advantages to him/her or things in which he/she believes of remaining in the coalition are grater than the disadvantages. Towards the end of one’s life or political career, one might feel there is little to be gained by such compromises and prefer total autonomy despite only having been enobled as a result of membership of the Party in the first place.

  • George Flaxman 14th Jan '17 - 9:01pm

    He never seemed like someone you could have a drink with in the pub. Still, sad to see.

  • There is. of course, a long tradition of Liberals feeling a bit queasy about MPs and ex-MPs for Montgomeryshire …

  • Simon Freeman 15th Jan '17 - 8:59am

    Always room for diasagreement within parties. You can never agree 100% with everything. I have no problem with the state seeing what I do on the internet. There’s nothing that exciting here. Sometimes to safeguard the liberties of all of us we have to accept certain things.

  • Gwyn Williams 15th Jan '17 - 12:40pm

    I find the tone of this article distasteful. When someone who has been a Liberal Democrat peer, Liberal and Liberal Democrat MP,Liberal candidate for East Flintshire in the 1970s and Party member for over 40 years no longer feels able to support our Party in Parliament at this time, one can take no comfort whatsoever. It may very well be that Alex’s views are no longer compatible with the rest of the Party. However it is a decision that he has taken. I trust that those who have called for Alex to be expelled from the Party do not make a habit of this. Lifelong Liberals should at least be allowed the courtesy of leaving at a time of their choosing.

  • Tony Greaves 15th Jan '17 - 3:07pm

    Just one point and one comment: Alex has said he will sit as non-affiliated. In the arcane world of the Lords, this is different from being a cross-bencher. (In any case, I understand that the Cross-benches – an organised group though without a Whip) make any defector from a political group wait a year before they will consider taking them as members.)

    Alex has been a fairly detached member of the group for a while. But he knows where he stands on issues and no doubt he will be supporting many of our initiatives in future.

  • Ruth Bright 16th Jan '17 - 9:03am

    Clegg’s book is worth reading just for the quotes on Carlile – ouch!

  • Sandy Walkington 16th Jan '17 - 9:38am

    I first came across Alex when he stood for and then recaptured Montgomery after it was lost by Emlyn Hooson in 1979. Every time Alex has diverged from the party’s core line over the snooper’s charter, I have been instinctively sad and frustrated but he has made me think because I have huge respect for his analytical judgment. I remember the days when Conservative and Labour spokespersons were like frightened rabbits in the glare of Alex’s headlights on Newsnight or the Today programme, so formidable was his intellect and so noiseless and silky too so they could find themselves skewered at any moment. It was always a frantic ‘I agree with Alex’. Compared with his successor as MP for Montgomery, I know who I preferred.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Jan '17 - 12:48pm

    Sandy Walkington: QC and MP, took silk.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Jan '17 - 1:58pm

    Tony Dawson makes the case very well, and with Liberal understanding of the individual, we all should.

    I believe my views on the issues he is very individual and different on, are far more aligned to the party view. Yet I feel in a political party if a range of views are not felt , it is a sect. I think Caron was wrong to so strongly call for him to remove himself from our group in the Lords in her previous contributions, and is right to show the stance and tone she does , in this article which is measured.

    We talk a lot about evidence based policy . This is as an academic or scientist would , or a judge or jury. However , there is another analogy too, related . A detective has to have such an approach as well. And a detective knows when understanding a crime , that motive is all.

    We need to look at politics in a similar way.

    What are the motives behind a policy or view.

    On this basis , even if we disagree with Lord Carlile, his motives are very Liberal Democratic. He seeks to protect us from harm. He sees the threat to us as greater , from the terrorist , and what they might do, than it is from the security services , and what they might do. Who can argue with that as a reason.I do not agree with his policy conclusions, but I do with his values.

    His previous efforts in the transgender area, mental health, and as a hardworking mp, mean we should be full of regret at his withdrawl.

    This party is too knee jerk. I fear Brexit is but one example. As said on another topic, I fear we shall adopt unilateralist policies on nuclear weapons really daft in today’s climate.

    We are gifting to the Tories when we become the political party version of Liberty or CND, and to Labour to get real !

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