Jeremy Browne MP writes… I’m no Tory: I’m a radical, authentic liberal

Lib Dem MP Jeremy Browne’s appearance on BBC1’s Question Time last week prompted critical comments for refusing to condfemn control orders, instead saying that the Coalition’s decision on control orders will await the outcome of the government-commission anti-terrorism review of Lib Dem peer Lord (Ken) Macdonald. Here Jeremy responds to his critics…

When I appeared on Question Time last week, I acknowledged that, confronted with a real terrorist threat from ideological zealots hostile to all of our liberal ideals, the government may sometimes, in its response, have to wrestle with the difficult tension between liberty and security. My goal is both to maintain and protect our free society, but where these are potentially in conflict, we are faced with hard choices.

It is glib and foolish to believe, as other panellists appeared to, that our security services are incompetent, stupid, or unaware of their responsibilities in a free society. They, along with other agencies of the state, including our police and, yes, our politicians, have the awesome burden of protecting our citizens from almost unimaginable horrors. One can have a deep-rooted instinct for our core civil liberties, as I do, while still recognising the seriousness of this obligation.

I do not know anyone who wants control orders as a matter of principle, and there are many people who argue that they are wholly ineffectual, although it is hard to know what evidence or foresight they have to make this assertion with absolute certainty. Others argue, more interestingly, that they may be effectual, but they should still not be used, even though this could carry severe risks. This is putting a price on our liberalism, and invites people to have a truly meaningful debate about whether that price could potentially ever be too high.

What, it seems to me, is simplistic is the belief that this debate is entirely black and white. That is why the government is having a review and will need to make a decision, uncertain, just like everyone else must be, that the outcome will prove to be correct.

In making this point I triggered an outbreak of criticism from some fellow Liberal Democrats accusing me of betraying the values of our party. It has sometimes been said, and was repeated on this occasion, that it showed that I am really a Conservative, thinly dressed in Lib Dem clothing.

This has always seemed to me to be an unfair charge because, based on the very criteria my detractors use, namely the balance between the power of the state versus the freedom of the individual, I have always regarded myself to be one of the most liberal MPs in parliament. In fact, it can be a source of frustration to me that the Liberal Democrats are not much more liberal.

To make the point, here is a list of diverse examples.

On conscience issues, I was one of only three Lib Dem MPs to vote against the state imposing a blanket ban on smoking in public places, even where individuals consented. Only a handful more Lib Dem MPs voted for an exemption for private clubs, where the freedom of the individual to make an informed choice seemed clear-cut to me.

I believe in religious freedom, and the freedom to criticise religions.

I support maintaining the current time restrictions for abortion rather than the state more closely prescribing the choice that women are allowed to make.

I favour liberalised licensing laws.

My presumption in favour of free speech meant I believed Geert Wilders should have been allowed to enter Britain.

I do not support a ban on hunting.

Nor do I support the death penalty, which seems to me to be the ultimate example of the state exercising authority over its citizens.

I do not like a we-know-best state coming up with ever more elaborate ways to penalise people for what they choose to eat (“fat taxes”) or drink (“minimum alcohol pricing”).

I think modelling agencies should be able to hire the models they wish without being told by the state whether they are too thin or too obese.

I am not an absolutist but, when it comes to siding with the individual against an overbearing state, I would stand my liberal credentials up against any other elected politician. Indeed, my reason for voting in this way is precisely to protect the freedoms of the individual even when, maybe especially when, I may not agree with them, or their preference may only enjoy minority approval.

My liberalism extends further.

I want to see more empowered citizens, rather than passive receivers of centralised state services. I believe that choice in education should not be confined to parents who have the money to send their child to a private school or move house to a prosperous catchment area. I want to see students use the power that comes with being the purchaser of a service to demand higher university standards.

I welcome more freedom for patients to decide the shape of their own long-term care packages. I fully support an active state providing opportunities for people who would otherwise not have them, but I am against confiscationary levels of taxation, and believe that people should have the freedom to spend a reasonable proportion of the money that they have earned on what they choose. I venerate the radical figures, like Galileo and Darwin, who challenged orthodoxy and authority. My instinctive sympathies are with the maverick and the loner.

I fully recognise that there are some public goods that the state must provide, such as defence. And there are limits to freedom when the impact on others is disproportionate, or when everyone exercising the freedom (driving on the same stretch of road at the same time) would, in effect, mean nobody could enjoy that freedom.

I doubt anyone shares my position on all of these examples, although my desire to protect the liberty of any individual is not simply connected to my agreeing with his or her preferences. My point is that when it comes to a choice between a prescriptive state or the empowerment of the individual, I am more radically in the latter camp than any other politician I know, which may not always be popular, but is, in my view, authentically liberal. And it means that when I say there can be serious decisions about how best to both maintain and protect our free society I say it not as a Conservative, but as someone with a fervent and idealistic belief in liberalism.

* Jeremy Browne is Lib Dem MP for Taunton and a Minister of State at the Foreign Office.

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77 Comments

  • Thanks for this Jeremy.

    Good to hear a good defence of my values – I admit I was squirming while watching you on Question Time. It’s the problem with being in power, of course, but civil liberties are an absolute red-line issue for me, and I assumed all Lib Dems, and we simply can’t lose this fight. I don’t have access to the same information as you, maybe, but to me it IS a black-and-white issue. As with many liberties issues, there are powerful arguments to the contrary (ID cards had pluses, as does the DNA database, as does trial-without-jury) but we cannot allow these to muddy the waters.

  • Fair enough re control orders, I suppose, although like Adam I still see this as a black/white issue and an absolute red line, Liberty has more than enough information to convince me that control orders are fundamentally useless.

    The main charge against you as far as I know was that you just didn’t put the argument about it across very well on the program itself, spending more time defending control orders than Jack Straw did. Any authoritarian nonsense can be defended with the sort of typical ‘it’s necessary for security!’ and ‘we know things that you don’t!’ lines, and it’s a shame to hear these coming from a representative of a party who up until now has managed to avoid that – if we’re not the party of liberalism, who will be?

  • “…a real terrorist threat from ideological zealots hostile to all of our liberal ideals”

    What ideological zealots are those then? Or do you mean the people so incensed by western violence and interference that they decided on a little push-back?

    “They, along with other agencies of the state, including our police and, yes, our politicians, have the awesome burden of protecting our citizens from almost unimaginable horrors..”

    Awesome burden! That’s a little dramatic. Do you mean that it’s part of the job description?

    Tony Blair was warned by the security services in 2003 that taking military action against Iraq will INCREASE the dangers of terrorism. I am sure the same logic used by the intelligence advisers then also applies to Afghanistan and Israel. Keep killing and threatening to kill people. mis-treating them, and supporting those that do the same – and it’s not surprising that they eventually form a resistance against such action. Churchill promised to do the same, and put plans in place to resist and use terrorist tactics.

    You’re the government. You have the solution.

    – Withdraw from Afghanistan.

    – Promise to pay substantial reparations to Afghanistan.

    – Bring to justice all those responsible for torture and murder.

    – Promise to pay substantial reparations to Iraq.

    – Introduce sanctions against Israel’s illegal occupation.

    – Stop making-up stories about Iran’s so-called nuclear weapons programme.

    If you truly want to relieve yourself and your colleagues of the “awesome burden,” and truly want to restore civil liberties then you have to take some actions. If you don’t – then you’re simply matters worse.

  • Sorry you were dreadful on QT. Liberal? I don’t think so. Just on a power trip.

  • Did you write your own headline?

    If you have to start with “I’m no Tory,” then you know you have a problem.

    It’s rather like Christine O’Donnell who had to start her speech with, “I am not a witch.”

  • Anthony Aloysius St 9th Nov '10 - 6:42pm

    “I fully recognise that there are some public goods that the state must provide, such as defence.”

    Someone please tell me we’re all going to wake up soon.

  • I didn’t see Question Time so I can’t comment on that in particular, but Jon Walls above seems to have summarised what I have to say here. My example would have been the smoking ban. While “the state keeping out of people’s business” would be your view, my view is that the state should protect people’s civil liberties — that is, protecting people from second-hand smoke. It’s a balancing act — at what point does the public’s right to clean, non-carcinogenic smoke outweigh an individual’s right to do what he/she wishes to his/her body? My personal view is the opposite to yours; smokers should be welcome to do so when it is only damaging their health (and anyone else’s who has given permission) but not where it damages the health of other non-consenting people.

  • Alan Smallwood 9th Nov '10 - 7:17pm

    To those who respond to Jeremy’s carefully considered and closely argued piece with the glib “it is a black and white issue”, please take the time to reread what he actually says. Jeremy is not launching any kind of impassioned case for control orders. As he says, there is a review, led by a LibDem peer, into all of our anti-terror laws. That is sensible and good. But as a staunch, militant, card carrying Liberal, I simply can’t accept that anyone else on ideologically driven grounds has the right to potentially put me and my young family at risk. Emotive language? Yes. But has anyone listened to any of the 7/7 inquest testimony over recent days? Easy to sit behind a keyboard armed with the trusty keyboard of moral absolutism. But do you really believe that in a circumstance where intelligence suggests there is a clear indication that someone is willing and able to commit an atrocity like that, yet insufficient evidence to prosecute, it is the liberal solution to let that person carry on regardless? Put it another way. With the benefit of the fantasy of perfect hindsight, had there been intelligence sufficient for a control order, but not for prosecution, could you look one of the 7/7 bereaved in the eye if you’d argued before the event that the bombers should not have been subject to a control order. These are complex issues. I would never want control orders used lightly. I would wish, as I am sure Jeremy would, that the LibDem led review can come up with liberal solutions to the security situation we face. But I also know that the freedom not to have yourself or your loved ones blown to pieces by people who are the enemies of freedom is a pretty fundamental liberal principle. By all means disagree with Jeremy. But do him the liberal courtesy of recognising that he is motivated by profoundly liberal principles. To deny that he is a liberal because he is not exactly the same kind of liberal seems to me astonishingly illiberal!

  • I am glad Jeremy wrote this, and I agree with many of his positions. However, please can I ask that you phrase what you say more carefully and try to sound Liberal. At times John Gaunt seemed more Liberal than you because of phrasing. I really thought about resigning, and hung my head in shame after last weeks programme. I do not want to be in that position again, especially not soon.

  • Your sentence ‘wrestle with the difficult tension between liberty and security’ chilled my heart. The rest of the article is OK, but it is a Black and White issue.

    The second you say that these are competing values (they are one and the same), the second you allow people to be detained without knowing why, and the second, however sure I am of our security services’ integrity is the second you begin to sound like George Bush, or a minister who – having been surrounded by civil servants and agents for so long – now subsribes to their agenda.

  • Joe Donnelly 9th Nov '10 - 7:59pm

    I see nothing illiberal in what Jeremy Browne has wrote although I may disagree with him on where the line lies between liberty and security.

    Most of the commentators here seem basically to be discussing the differences between positive and negative freedoms (I’d urge anyone to read Isiah Berlin before they get a LibDem membership card). Its perfectly possible to have Brownes views and be a liberal hes just more of a classical liberal than most of you lot are.

    To the poster who talked about ‘know your lib dem history and tradition’, first of all that sounds like some bizarre Burkean argument and secondly…KNOW your lib dem history and tradition, this quasi-socialist stuff half the member ship follows now is NOT our parties heritage.

  • Would that the issue of control orders were the only thing in that Question Time that so many found cringeworthy. Question Time is a nervewracking forum and unforgiving battle of wits, so it might be better not to go into such an arena appearing unprepared, unclear or ill at ease with the format. I suggest Nick loan out some of his more experienced public relations advisors to more thoroughly coach and vet future participants.

    George puts forward sensible points on intercept but it also has to be recognised that control orders was an issue in which there was little grey area in the manifesto and was rightly condemned by Nick at the time. Where George rather misses the point is that on Question Time Jeremy had a nationwide platform to speak and put the case clearly. That Mr Browne felt the need to ‘clarify’ his comments is a tacit admission that he failed to do so to at least his satisfaction and I’m fairly sure a large number of those watching.

    In a day when George Bush is all across the airwaves trying to justify torture I would caution against anyone who thinks the security service is either always right (Iraq ?) or should even be the sole arbiter of policy. It would of course be foolhardly and grossly negligent to completely ignore their advice on matters of national security, and I strongly doubt they ever are, but they are the servants of politicians not the masters.

    “Get the evidence then charge them” seems not unreasonable when the judicial dead zone of Guantanamo relied on a similar approach to ‘justice’ as control orders do. And our American cousins don’t always get it so wrong as Benjamin Franklin put so beautifully, “Those that would sacrifice Freedom for Security deserve neither.”

  • Oh the problems of power. The party passionately rejected any form of control order for years and has now got to deal with the reality. The reality is that in power, as @Matt so ably demonstrates, previous statements come back to haunt you.

    I have some experience with Terrorism, on 22 September 1989 the IRA bombed my unit in Deal, Kent. 10 died that day with an 11th one month later. I doubt whether a day has gone past since when it has not affected me in some way. You are right to say these issues need to be carefully reviewed. For some of us the problem is not abstract.

    Due to our restrictions on post charge questioning, I was, and am, in favour of longer detention prior to charge. Terrorism is complex, other countries allow a holding charge to be used and the individual is remanded but still available for questioning. I’ve never understood why we do not follow suit.

    But control orders are, in reality open ended, even if the proposed 90 day detention before charge had been accepted, it was finite. Charges needed to be laid or the individual would need to be released. We cannot challenge China and Burma if we retain house arrest without charge ourselves. Like many others I cannot see how we can be so sure these people are dangerous without being able to charge them with a crime.

    Finally, on the matter of how you appeared on question time. You may be no Tory, but I think if you allow yourself to look back on your performance with a critical eye (or preferably a critical individual) you may see why you appeared to many to be talking like one.

  • Andrew Suffield 9th Nov '10 - 9:05pm

    What ideological zealots are those then?

    Oh, those are real enough. They’re mostly found around the middle east. Take the suicide bombers for example – there’s been a spate of those in Afghanistan. They gather in small groups to put on their bomb jackets, and then have a big manly group hug to prepare themselves. Half the time they blow themselves up at this point, by bashing something important on one of their crudely made bombs. These are the “terrible threats to our safety” that we keep being told about.

    The point of this anecdote is that being a terrorist ideological zealot means you are pretty much by definition also a complete moron. Nobody in history has ever successfully advanced their ideology through terrorism, and particularly not by small scale terrorism. Political causes like the IRA sometimes work out, but religious ones never have, largely because you can’t negotiate with a religion. You have to be profoundly ignorant to try something like that.

    The problem with our security services is that they fly into a mad panic at the possibility of one of these idiots succeeding by chance, and do not have a realistic attitude to estimating risks (which is why we’re at terrorist alert level “useless and irrelevant colour” again).

  • “I agree with Jeremy!”

    As someone who supports the Coalition and a lot of what you do, Jeremy (including selective education), I find it deeply frustrating that there is any doubt of your Liberal credentials. Especially so, given that you (as I have done also) have spent a lot of time and energy fighting against the Conservatives. The party encompasses a broad spectrum of views. The “left” have had it their way for a number of years and the pendulum has swung some way back to the centre. Such is the nature of things. At the end of the day we are all Liberals – at least I hope so.

  • Antony Hook 9th Nov '10 - 9:22pm

    @Steve Way

    I remember the Deal bomb like it was yesterday. We lived in College Road and I was getting ready for school when it went off.

  • Unfortunately, I feel Jeremy’s defence fails in its first sentence, when he talks about “the difficult tension between liberty and security”. This tension is largely nonexistent. Most measures which improve your security (such as front door locks, home insurance etc.) do not compromise your liberty. Franklin’s quote doesn’t imply that it is necessary to sacrifice freedom for security – quite the opposite, in fact.

    It is certainly true that control orders impinge liberty. It is uncertain whether that impingement can be justified by prevention of harm to others – I believe that our anti-terror laws are sufficiently wide-ranging that if there were real evidence of risk, we could actually charge people in a court. Perhaps Jeremy can put the case for control orders, rather than sidetrack with a list of less contraversial liberal measures he supports? Let’s have the debate he mentions, rather than a sidetrack…

  • TheContinentalOp 9th Nov '10 - 10:27pm

    I’m sorry but if this article had come from a New Labour minister then it would be trashed by the same people now defending JB’s arguments.

  • It will be very interesting to see which way LibDem MPs vote on this. Having continually voting against its annual renewal, to now suddenly vote for it, once in government, won’t, I believe, look good.

  • @Andrew Suffield

    “Nobody in history has ever successfully advanced their ideology through terrorism, and particularly not by small scale terrorism.”

    Would you prefer large-scale terrorism?

    “Political causes like the IRA sometimes work out, but religious ones never have, largely because you can’t negotiate with a religion.”

    The Jewish state of Israel was founded on terrorism.

    Britain pulled out of Aden because of terrorism.

    The Indian independence movement got to the table through terrorism.

    The Afghans ejected the Soviets through terrorism.

    The French cut their losses and pulled out of Algeria through terrorism.

    The terrorism of the Continental Army lead to the independence of the thirteen colonies.

    Britain pulled out of Cyprus because of terrorism.

    Hezbollah were pretty successful at getting the Americans to leave through the use of terrorism – and they’ve also now got seats in their government.

    What were you saying about being profoundly ignorant?

  • Control orders are a red line. Punishing innocent people without a charge is against our principles more than any cuts or tax rises ever will be.

    Agree with the rest of the post though, your type of liberalism is very welcome in the party.

  • Charles Anglin 10th Nov '10 - 12:32am

    Well done Jeremy for standing up for traditonal liberal values.

    Liberalism has many strands – and thankfully all of them are represented in the LibDems. It must be possible for good liberals to disagree with each other without denouncing one another as Tories or socialists? Those who want to hound others out of the party because they have a different view on a particular issue are surely the most illiberal of all.

    I am surprised that party members (I assume) expect a serving Govt minister to be speaking against Govt policy on national TV. The Govt is committed to a review and will adopt a policy after its been concluded. That said on the wider issues Jeremy raises I’m right behind him – his article is making a point about the role of the state in day to day life and how it can restrict as well as protect freedom. Liberalism must be as much about holding back the state as it is tackling poverty and combatting prejudice. What separates us from the Tories is that we don’t just believe in the individual, and what differentiates us from Labour is that we don’t just believe in society – what makes us liberal is the belief in the individual as part of society. That means protecting freedoms but also taking responsibility and good liberals will always argue about where that boundary should lie.

  • Dear Mr Browne

    Firstly I really hope you actually read these comments. 2ndly I should declare that I agree very much with Jon Walls above; you are (or at least appear to be) a classical liberal. This is a wonderful revelation to myself, as unlike Jon I beleive modern liberalism to be a horrible perversion of real classical liberalism. Jon is also right to say that this kind of thinking runs in much of the conservative party. As a member of the conservative party and an avowed classical liberal I however see it as a brilliant thing. If the lib dems were all classical liberas then I would gladly be with them instead. Keep fighting the good fight for individual liberty and maybe speak to the likes of Chris Heaton Harris and steve baker in parliament, both of whom are conservative classical liberals.
    Conservative classical liberals.

  • Joe Donnelly 10th Nov '10 - 2:24am

    @Jon Walls

    I don’t particularly care what the ‘public is primarily looking for’, I don’t presume to know it and I don’t think you know it either.

    There is nothing wrong with Mr Browne asserting his liberalism back to his philosophical principles, in fact I find it quite inspiring that some MP’s still feel this passionately about liberalism and aren’t just in the party for a trivial reason or a superficial agreement with some policies.

    Liberalism will succeed by winning the philosophical argument for why we are right and others are wrong not by appearing competent and boring.

  • Simon McGrath 10th Nov '10 - 6:39am

    Jeremy what a great article. liberalism is alive and well.brilliant.

  • Andrew Suffield 10th Nov '10 - 8:10am

    What were you saying about being profoundly ignorant?

    You listed a bunch of political efforts, and zero religious ones, so you appear to be agreeing with me in an angry rage. None of those groups were “ideological zealots”, and in fact every single one of them is about local freedom fighters throwing out invaders. You can add the IRA to that list, like I originally mentioned.

    (Not that I agree with your characterization of history in all those cases, but it hardly matters)

  • Old Slaughter 10th Nov '10 - 8:30am

    I with you on the model agencies.

  • “Think This”

    Quite. You are a tory and so is Browne.

    What disturbs me immensly is the number of people within the Lib Dem party who are classical liberals. I am a liberal and I certainly wouldn’t have voted for a party espousing that ideaology. The tories have always espoused freedom of the individual when what they really mean is freedom of the privileged to exploit those who aren’t. They are a party of freedom for land-hoarders, monopolists, cartels and oligarchs. That’s why I detest their existence. That is why I don’t think I will be able to bring myself to vote Lib Dem again, which leaves me with an absence of a true liberal party to vote for. What happened to Keynes, Georgism, creating a level playing field, etc?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 10th Nov '10 - 10:07am

    A “classical liberal”/libertarian (or whatever you want to call it) may be one thing, but a “classical liberal”/libertarian who doesn’t believe in the rule of law sounds like the worst of both worlds.

  • Jeremy it appears you are a libertarian, not a liberal, the two things are different. You would feel much more at home in the tea party I think.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 10th Nov '10 - 10:49am

    “I have always regarded myself as one of the most liberal MPs in parliament”

    Such arrogance

    Do your colleagues perceive you as such, Jeremy?

  • Malcolm Todd 10th Nov '10 - 10:51am

    Charles Anglin
    Posted 10th November 2010 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    Those who want to hound others out of the party because they have a different view on a particular issue are surely the most illiberal of all.

    Really? More illiberal to cry (powerlessly) “get out of my party” than to support (as a government minister and member of the legislature, i.e. with real power) the indefinite detention of people who have committed no crime? Strange, I don’t think I’d find even expulsion from the Lib Dems — let alone mere invitations to leave — quite that traumatic.

    I am surprised that party members (I assume) expect a serving Govt minister to be speaking against Govt policy on national TV. The Govt is committed to a review and will adopt a policy after its been concluded.

    Well, if the government hasn’t adopted a policy, he wouldn’t have been speaking against govt policy, would he? And anyway — I absolutely expect senior members of my party to speak up for their own views and those of the party. Remember Alan Clarke? Ministers like that may be a nightmare for party managers, but they are (rightly) respected for their honesty by the public, including the party rank and file.

    That said on the wider issues Jeremy raises I’m right behind him – his article is making a point about the role of the state in day to day life and how it can restrict as well as protect freedom.

    Point me to the bit where he talks about the role of the state in protecting freedom? That it can also restrict freedom is trivially obvious.

    Liberalism must be as much about holding back the state as it is tackling poverty and combatting prejudice. What separates us from the Tories is that we don’t just believe in the individual, and what differentiates us from Labour is that we don’t just believe in society – what makes us liberal is the belief in the individual as part of society. That means protecting freedoms but also taking responsibility and good liberals will always argue about where that boundary should lie.

    This was a great description of where I stand, despite the inevitable, rather inaccurate caricatures of Tory and Labour beliefs. Trouble is, I don’t see how it matches up to much of what Jeremy Browne is saying in this article.

  • “On conscience issues, I was one of only three Lib Dem MPs to vote against the state imposing a blanket ban on smoking in public places, even where individuals consented. Only a handful more Lib Dem MPs voted for an exemption for private clubs, where the freedom of the individual to make an informed choice seemed clear-cut to me.”
    As one of Jeremy’s ex teachers I am not at all surprised by this stance on smoking……..

    On the performance during Question Time I think it is easy to criticise an individual for not being totally clear cut on a very difficult area where you are torn between your basic liberal ideas and your responsibility to your government colleagues and the population as a whole. It was clear to me it is dawning that there is a big difference between being in permanent opposition and suddenly finding that you have your hands on “the levers of power”. What you say and do actually does make a difference! Having scanned the items above it is quite amazing the number of shades of grey that the term “black or white” can appear to have. Looking into the eyes of bereaved relatives of bomb attack victims or, conversely, people who have lost their livelihood due to “incorrect intelligence” causing them to be under a control order are not easy questions to answer. Especially in the space of a few minutes attributed during a TV programme. Jeremy’s performance, although not perfect, showed that he is rapidly learning the lessons of statehood. Jeremy excelled in his teens at bowling down the odd bouncer to test the opposition openers, and taking some smart slip catches. He will now have to learn the art of defending his wickets.

  • People calling themselves ;classical liberals’ and saying they agree with Browne are just wrong. GO and read some classical liberal political philosophy first… Mill/Locke/Bentham for starters. You would see that they would not be happy with Browne”s positions.

    Again Liberalism is distinct for Libertarianism. Liberalism, as envisaged by Locke, believe in ‘the state and as a neutral umpire’ and in Mill’s ‘harm principle’. Classical liberals never believed that state intereference is wrong, per se, that is what differentiates them from libertarians.

    No, classical liberals believe it is the role of the state to protect individual liberties ‘a neutral umpire’, but ever since the inception of liberalism and Whiggism there has been a more radical and left-leaning current… in many cases and countries it has been the dominant current that believes the state in protecting people’s economic liberties too. In addition, the idea that the state should protect people’s liberties, and that it should not force people to do things ‘for their own good’ (the harm principle) does not in any way exclude even major economic interventionism.

    No, this Tory and Libertarian current within the lib dem party is a recent invention and really one that should never have been able to take root. Unfortunately it seems that even the party hs been invaded by entryists.

  • @Joe Donnelly

    How long have you been a member of the Lib Dems?

    It seems like you don’t know ‘the heritage’ of the party. You do know that the Lib Dem party was formed from a joining of the right-wing of the cente-left Liberal party and the SDP?

    I guess you would term ‘social democracy ‘quasi-socialist nonsense’… well perhaps you should have a word to the ex social democrats in our party, more than half of the leadership.

    I don’t even want to know what you mean by ‘socialism’, but, suffice to say, it would not be the correct definition.

    You do know who Locke, Mill, Bentham, Henry George, Lloyd George, Beveridge and Keynes were, right? Only the most notable Liberal theorists?

    Really I am ore tired of the entryists. Being relatively young I have not been a member for very long…. but a quick discussion will show that the majority of long-standing Lib Dem members have opinions considerably to the left than some of the tin-foil hat libertarians that have been joining up recently.

  • @Andrew Suffield

    Let me repeat (again) for you what you wrote: “Nobody in history has ever successfully advanced their ideology through terrorism, and particularly not by small scale terrorism. Political causes like the IRA sometimes work out, but religious ones never have, largely because you can’t negotiate with a religion.”

    I gave you a list of examples of successes through terrorism. Whatever your definition of “small scale” is, the Hezbollah attacks on USA in Lebanon were certainly smaller than what’s going on in Afghanistan. The establishment of the jewish state of Israel certainly had a religious foundation. So your statement has no validity when compared to the evidence.

    The suicide bombers in Afghanistan that you cite want the foreign forces out of Afghanistan and are attacking foreign forces, their military bases, their convoys and their collaborators. That’s a struggle for liberation. They want their country back. It was USA/UK who invaded Afghanistan and deposed the government. Remember?

    Addressing the broader picture, Al-Qaeda spokesman and OBLaden have repeatedly said the attacks will continue until American foreign policy of interference in the Middle East and its support of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians stops. Al Qaeda have never said they want the west to convert to Islam – or because they don’t like our freedoms. They’ve never said they’ll keep attacking until we all believe in Allah.

    Which takes me neatly back to the question I put to Jeremy Browne: What ideological zealots are those then? Or do you mean the people so incensed by western violence and interference that they decided on a little push-back?

  • In the blogosphere there are quite a few Lib Dem members putting forward simplistic libertarian/classical liberal views and not seeming to get that the values of the Liberal Democrats are broader than that. It is surprising and worrying to find a senior Lib Dem MP taking the samee stance.

  • We must not as liberals be open to the charge that our liberalism is ‘pick and mix’, that we are more zealous guardians and promoters of the freedoms of those we identify with than those with whom we have less natural sympathy.
    To my mind the great achievement of the party over the last few years has been to make the difficult but necessary arguments for civil liberties. Whatever arguments may be advanced for control orders they are not liberal arguments. A government that places people under house arrest is not a liberal government. If the Lib Dem commitment to civil liberties is waterered down or abandoned during this period of power then I doubt the party deserves to continue to exist as a political force.

  • “I am surprised that party members (I assume) expect a serving Govt minister to be speaking against Govt policy on national TV. The Govt is committed to a review and will adopt a policy after its been concluded.”

    I could not agree more with this. We really do need to understand better how governments must work if they are to provide a coherent and stable administration. There may come a time in the term of office of any minister when he or she has to contemplate going publicly against the government and resigning – yes resigning because that is what they would have to do (remember the late lamented Robin Cook on Iraq?) . Reading many of the posts on LDV (excluding the constant interventions from ill-disguised enemies of our Party) one would think ministers should be protesting and resigning on nearly every policy that wasn’t in the Lib Dem manifesto.

    If control orders are retained should this be one of those “red line” issues? This is a decision to be made if and when that arises – certainly not when the matter is under review. The current period is a time for powerful argument to be exercised privately within government – not splashed about in Question Time. I for one strongly support the abolition of control orders – although as a previous post has pointed out it may well be necessary to permit intercept evidence as a part of the deal.

    What I think could be done more openly is for Lib Dem MPs including ministers to say – we didn’t win the election and so we have had to compromise on some issues while prevailing in the negotiation on other issues. In The Daily Politics today, the said Jeremy Browne turned on Douglas Alexander (going on about tuition fees) and said “If we had gone into coalition with Labour would you have allowed us to implement our entire manifesto?”

    This kind of point needs made more often.

  • Geoffrey Payne wrote: “The problem with your vision of freedom is that it is an atomised one.”

    Absolutely agree. His argument really is that all liberalisms are equal but my liberalism is not as equal as yours, which seems grossly unfair. Not that I begrudge him his position, I think we need the devoted individualist as a check on our desire for government.

    I also think his argument in defence of allowing hunting can be easily undercut. What if the anti-hunting advocate is arguing that the animal has, to some lesser extent, have basic rights, like not to be hunted for pleasure alone? (A position that I for one, do hold). Further what if someone argues that animals have rights to life as humans do and as such one cannot permit hunting. Now, we may have issues with these arguments, but it seems to me that someone could vote no to hunting in these circumstances from an even higher liberal principle than Jeremy professes to hold.

  • Your committment to free speech is quite refreshing, as both the right to both criticise and proselytise your religion is very important. I would hope, to this end, that you persuade the coalition to reform section 4a and 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, by removing the words “insulting” and “alarm”. Also, to reform section 3 of the Public Order Act (racial hatred, bear with me), which has been used to prosecute the burning of religious books. (“insulting words or behaviour likely to stir up racial hatred”). Although a book burning in itself may be regarded as objectionable behaviour, the fact that an Act about racial hatred can be used to prosecute criticism of religion in this way suggests the possibility that a more legitimate critique of religion could also be suppressed in the future. Therefore, “racial motivation” should be added to section 3 to protect speech critical of religion, and section 4 (fear of violence) should be used to prosecute book burnings if necessary. Moreover, when black councillor Shirley Williams called another black councillor a “coconut” (imputing she was white on the inside), this shouldn’t have led to a conviction for racial hatred in my mind. If you remove the word insulting from the objective test of section 3 however (likely to stir up hatred), this would leave behind only threatening and abusive words, none of which could catch this example out as it was only “insulting” in nature. “Insulting” could however remain in the subjective test (intended to stir up racial hatred), thus continuing to make it difficult for parties like the BNP to intentionally stir up hatred.

  • If the cap fits wear it – you are aTory. Be out and proud like your deputy leader.

  • How does your support for bloodsports make you a Liberal?

    Your stance on many issues seems very illiberal to me.

  • Geoffory Payne

    Sorry I didn’t elaborate. Rushed comment without editing. Always bad.

    Browne seems to be suggesting that his definition of liberalism somehow real liberalism, and a definition of liberalism, one that I suspect you and I subscribe to, is not as liberal as his. From your point, I took that you thought Browne had an unnecessarily reductionist view of the meaning of freedom ie, negative freedoms, when you and I would also include some positive freedoms too.

    My disagreement is with his belief that he is more liberal than me. I wouldn’t agree. I would argue we understand freedoms in different ways.

  • I’m sorry Jeremy but the rule of law (in the form of control orders) is morally black&white, just like torture or the death penalty. ifs and buts are only expediencies to avoid having to deal with the sometimes more difficult, but always existing, liberal option.

    And from your list of ‘liberal’ positions you support, you’re a libertarian, not a liberal.
    The, worrying, fact the only example of the state being needed you mention is defence is proof of it!

  • Martin Land 11th Nov '10 - 9:18pm

    Methinks…

  • patricia roche 12th Nov '10 - 9:41am

    it is very liberating to ‘choose’ to be unemployed and be stripped of support after 12 months, or pick up litter, hence causing the sacking of street cleaners to save councils money. I can see that is is a freedom to take benefits off famililies and leave them homeless. A new dawning of liberation. You can see how much I am looking forward to it.

  • “reflex oppositionism”?

    If you persist in using phrases like that Jeremy you’ll never win a prize from the ‘Plain English’ brigade.

    At least you recognised your performance on Question Time was pretty awful.

    As you say, “there are some difficulties in speaking for the government”, especially when the Government are doing so many illiberal things!

  • Labour Troll 12th Nov '10 - 6:42pm

    @RichardSM

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/6984102.stm – “Embrace Islam”, Bin Laden urges.

    A simple Google search has proved you wrong.

  • Terrorism is still war. It is a war in which the terrorists do not fight conventionally and are able to choose the battlefield and the strategy and have the advantage of surprise. Britain is involved in a terrorist war. It is the duty of the British Government to win that war by whatever legal means necessary. At times of war the liberal postures of opposition are tried by the reality of government and may have to be abandoned if they militate against winning the war. The realities of Government are teaching the Liberal Democrats that hard and painful lesson and quite sensibly Jeremy Browne is reflecting upon it.

  • @Labour Troll

    Nonsense. Al Qaeda have never made cessation of hostilities conditional upon America and Britain converting to Islam.

    What bin Laden actually said in the link you’ve got excited about was, “I invite you to embrace Islam.”

    An embrace is very different to a religious conversion.

    You need to keep trawling the internet to see if you can come with anything else.

  • I would just like to take the time to point out that government action is not only necessary but urgently desirable in lifting people out of poverty, training up those suffering from economic dislocation as manufacturing dies and their ladder to the middle class disappears, tackling illiteracy, contributing to research and development that the private sector won’t do (or won’t do enough of), providing basic standards of healthcare, tackling environmental degredation etc.
    ‘Liberty without equality is of noble sound, but squalid meaning’. It is as true for liberalism today as it was when Hobhouse wrote it in the early 20th century.

  • Labour Troll 14th Nov '10 - 9:22pm

    @ RichardSM:

    “Embrace” means he’s urging the West to adopt Islam as its primary religious philosophy in order to stop what, at the time, was a rather bloody campaign in Iraq. Use a dictionary.

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