Ed Miliband’s home affairs appointments: can we really take him seriously on civil liberties?

One of the more cheering bits of Ed Miliband’s speech to the Labour party conference was his pledge that the party under his leadership would once again take seriously the issue of civil liberties, of individual rights

My generation recognises too that government can itself become a vested interest when it comes to civil liberties. I believe in a society where individual freedom and liberty matter and should never be given away lightly. … we must always remember that British liberties were hard fought and hard won over hundreds of years. We should always take the greatest care in protecting them. And too often we seemed casual about them. … I won’t let the Tories or the Liberals take ownership of the British tradition of liberty. I want our party to reclaim that tradition.

Stirring stuff, and for small-l liberals everywhere a welcome sense that the Labour party might be rediscovering the radical, reforming spirit of the 1960s (when Roy Jenkins was a crusading, liberal home secretary), and banishing once and for all the dismal parade of authoritarian home secretaries appointed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

But then Ed Miliband announced his shadow cabinet. And suddenly I’m doubting the sincerity of the new Labour leader’s words.

First, there was the appointment of Ed Balls as shadow home secretary. Lib Dem Voice noted at the start of Labour’s leadership campaign that Mr Balls was the least liberal of the contenders (together with Andy Burnham).

Indeed, it was hard to think of a Labour MP less likely to pursue a liberal home affairs agenda within the Labour party… and then I heard that Mr Balls was to be joined by Phil Woolas.

Mr Woolas ranked among the most authoritarian Labour MPs of the last parliament, achieving an impressively illiberal 100% score.

More importantly, his wafer-thin election victory in Oldham East and Saddleworth is currently the subject of a court challenge as a result of the campaign he mounted — see LDV’s recent reports here — and the literature he put out. As Lib Dem blogger Nick Thornsby notes in an open letter to Ed Miliband:

… in his election campaign, Phil Woolas published material that any right-minded person would find abhorrent. He claimed on leaflets that Muslim extremist groups were attempting to rig the election, and that his Lib Dem opponent was somehow in cahoots with them, and then, as we learned from the court case which I attended, his team delivered these leaflets solely to the ‘white areas’ of the constituency.

Whether or not Mr Woolas is deemed on November 5th to have breached election law is, frankly, irrelevant.

We must judge people by their actions, and the campaign that Phil Woolas ran was an affront to decency, democracy and a civilised society. … In my eyes, and clearly in the eyes of many of your members, this man is not fit to be an MP. Yet you have made him a front-bench spokesman in your first shadow ministerial team.

What, Mr Miliband, are we to conclude from that? As I said, we judge our politicians by their actions. For the sake of public life, I hope you will reconsider this decision.


Others in the Labour party also appear shocked by Ed Miliband’s decision to hand a plum role to Mr Woolas. The New Statesman questions its wisdom here:

The one sore point is the bizarre decision to hand Phil Woolas the post of Home Office minister. Having run one of the most disgraceful election campaigns in recent history, Woolas is currently fighting an attempt to have his victory overturned by his Lib Dem opponent on the grounds of “corrupt practices”.

While over at the Labour-leaning Liberal Conspiracy website, Sunny Hundal denounces the decision:

Out of all the shadow cabinet appointments, it’s having Phil Woolas back at the Home Office that is the most disappointing. No actually, it makes me angry given recent revelations. And it’s worth pointing out once more, properly, why Phil Woolas is unsuitable to be in the Labour party, let alone a shadow minister.

Ed Miliband’s warm words on civil liberties were welcome. His early actions are anything but.

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  • Good article, it will be nice to indulge in a bit of Labour bashing to take away attention from the woes of the Lib Dems on Student fees, amongst other things, it’s also very fortuitous that it’s this article that pushes the ‘ why I’m saying no to graduate tax article’ onto the 2nd page.
    So here goes, yeah Labour can’t be trusted on civil liberties, we cant expect anything else from the party of ID cards, detention without trial and the DNA database, how can the electorate possibly believe anything they say ………
    ……Do you know I just haven’t the heart the write any more, I feel too much like a hypocrite.

  • Mike(The Labour one) 11th Oct '10 - 8:51pm

    Definately a mistake to put Phil Woolas in. Shouldn’t even be in the party. But let’s see where the party goes on civil liberties. I’d sooner have the odious Phil Woolas on air announcing positive policies than a nice guy/girl up announcing restrictions on civil liberties. Fingers crossed Phil Woolas will go and we’ll get a nice guy/girl announcing positive policies, though.

  • Sorry for the sarcasm in the above post, I’m just feel a little unenthusiastic about politics atm ….
    memo to self, don’t post when feeling p***ed off .

  • TheContinentalOp 11th Oct '10 - 9:04pm

    Phil Woolas – terrible appointment. What an odious individual.

    Been impressed with a lot of what Ed Milliband has had to say but if he is going to tofaly true to his vision then the Woolas is exactly the sort of ‘politician’ that he needs to rid his party of.

  • He was, of course, the politician who was totally humiliated by Joanna Lumley. If you look him up on Wikipedia his profile is actually amazing – probably the worst and most damning I have ever read.

    One has to wonder what the story is behind the story, all the facts are known so why would Ed M actually appoint him out of choice?

  • I think given what the Lib Dem/Conservative council in Birmingham is doing on housing asylum seekers now perhaps isn’t the best time for Lib Dems to be crowing about how good they are at civil liberties. The council’s actions really are shameful.


  • Ed Miliband’s home affairs appointments: can we really take him seriously on civil liberties?

    That’s rich coming from LibDems who’re in bed with the tories and are backpedalling on every issue. “But we got referendum on AV” is the justification we’re offered. What will you do in May when it’s defeated?

  • Milliband is a mirage.

    His “New Generation” cabinet is a rehash of most of the same old failures as the old one, especially in the big jobs.

    His commitment to Civil Liberties is so thin he appoints a proud tribalist bully at the home office, and an unethical liar as his understudy.

    It’s a shame. I think Ed is, deep down, a decent man with decent values. But he remains hostage to a party that to it’s rotten core believes in control and micro-management.

  • Presumably he appointed Woolas because he thought other choices would be worse. Doesn’t say much for the rest of the Labour MPs.

  • Can I just point out that the leaflet shown above is far from the worst example – and isn’t even part of the court case.

    It really is worth going to the straight choice website and looking at them in their full race-baiting glory.

  • I’ve seen a few a Labour tweets that say this entire decision was taken on the basis that we have to show solidarity with him in the run up to the verdict. This is extremely odd way of doing things as the normal procedure is to suspend a member or councillor pending the out come of a trial. This is a hybrid trial but it is a criminal trial in essense with punative sanctions.

  • Human RIghts Act, something you mob will find a way to rationalise the repealing of, a Labour initiative. Keep justifying your lies to yourselves. Those of us that voted for you aren’t going to be fooled.

  • Stuart Mitchell 12th Oct '10 - 8:33pm

    If Theresa “Pro Section 28” May can be lauded by Lib Dems as a “liberal” home secretary, then there is no reason whatsoever why Ed Balls couldn’t too, or even Phil Woolas for that matter.

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