Jeremy Browne writes … My liberalism has a simple objective: to promote the freedom and ambitions of every individual.

Jeremy Browne writes in The House magazine:

My liberalism has a simple objective: to promote the freedom and ambitions of every individual.

Their freedom from persecution, from fear, from ignorance and from enforced conformity. And their ambition to reach their full potential.

Personal freedom requires the state to be the servant of the people; never their master. But that does not automatically mean that liberalism always benefits from having a small state.

With the reflex authoritarianism of the Blair/Brown years, liberals have often become accustomed to regarding the state as a threat to liberty. Under Labour we saw a steady erosion of freedom: the expensive and shambolic ID cards programme, intrusive surveillance, and the dramatic extension of detention without charge, to name but a few.

Liberal Democrats must always remain vigilant about proposals for the forfeiture of personal liberties or the greater empowerment of the state. It is our responsibility to be a powerful defender of freedom, whether in government or outside. This is the instinctive heart-beat of our party.

But sometimes, the state is not a threat to liberty, but the guardian of it. The question for liberals, therefore, is not how much power to vest in the state, but what measures most empower the people.

If we define our role in the Home Office narrowly as being just fervent defenders of civil liberties, we will serve a narrow definition of liberalism which falls short of empowering all people to the greatest degree.

I want the Liberal Democrats, working constructively in government, to be powerful voices for a society where every individual lives free from the fear of crime or persecution.

Think of the aging widow, alone in her home, too frightened to go outside after dark. This is not a hypothetical example; it is a daily reality for some people in Britain. Maybe she fears the groups of teenagers outside, or is intimidated by the inadequate lighting or late-night noise. Maybe, in reality, her fears are ungrounded, but they are no less real for her if she feels them to be true.

By no definition is this lady a free person. She lives under voluntary house arrest in a state of siege. For her a small state is not the solution; she is reliant on the state to restore and safeguard her freedom.

Or imagine instead the woman trafficked from abroad for a life of violently enforced prostitution. For her the state is the most likely source of rescue.

Critics of the Liberal Democrats accuse the party of a contradiction in wanting a smaller state when it comes to civil liberties but a bigger state when it comes to fighting crime, but there is no contradiction. We remember that the state is the servant of the people; initially created by us to protect our freedoms. When it threatens our freedoms it needs to be reigned in; when it safeguards our freedoms it needs to be empowered.

Crime takes many forms. Like many organisations – businesses, retailers, media – it is at once becoming more globalised and yet remains also very local.

Big organised crime – people trafficking, cyber-attacks, child exploitation, fraud – requires a big organised response. It needs enhanced coordination and resilience. The state needs to be equipped to adequately defend our liberties. Of course we must be vigilant about accountability and alert to the abuses of power, but we will not protect people against serious crime by failing to take it seriously.

But just as threatening – perhaps more so on a day-to-day basis – than big organised crime is small disorganised crime. The lives of millions of people are blighted daily by crime and anti-social behaviour in their communities. Vandalism, graffiti, minor thefts, late-night noise. Their quality of life is constantly degraded.

Those people are not truly free either. Not free to let their spirits soar. Not free to feel proud of their communities. Not free to stop worrying.

And just as international organised crime needs an international response, local crime needs a local response.

Here, Liberal Democrats understand the value of power being devolved to local communities. We do not believe that people should have to wait for assistance from remote figures in positions of authority. We want active communities: local police who know their beat, assisted by community support officers and – crucially – working hand-in-hand with local residents groups, neighbourhood watch teams, charities and others. All coming together to make their area safer.

As Minister for Crime Prevention, it is my responsibility to ensure we have an effective, national crime-fighting capacity and to ensure we empower communities with workable solutions to daily law-breaking; not with headline-grabbing gimmicks but with evidence-based measures aimed at genuinely preventing and reducing crime.

The Home Office is a department where, in practical terms, on a daily basis, our party can do so much to advance liberal values. Both by protecting people from an overbearing state, and by using the authority of government, harnessed to empowered communities, to protect people from crime and fear.

* Jeremy Browne is the MP for Taunton Deane, and was previously a minister in both the Home and Foreign offices.

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  • Richard Dean 2nd Oct '12 - 4:28pm

    Freedom is a bit more complicated than that. Are you promoting the ambitions of individuals who are criminals? Hopefully not.

    Freedom in society requires negotiations and agreements involving individuals and involving groups, and one of the most important groups is the family. Another important group is a local community,though this group can contain very diverse parts. It is surely right that responses to bad behaviours are best managed at or near the group level where they occur. Local policing and local magistrates for local problems, though perhaps guided by experience coded into national rules.

    We cannot all lead an idle life, we have to work, we have to accept the limitations on freedom that work entails, and by doing so we hopefully achieve a greater freedom that is enabled by the fruits of our labour.

  • I am confused about whether you are really talking about freedom here, or safety?

    There is nothing wrong with empowering the police to deal with crime on a more local basis, but to prevent crime it is necessary to build a sense of community, and personal responsibility in individual people, and to do that you also need to get the law right about what is a crime, and be communicating with people about why it is a crime. I think successive Conservative , and then Labour Governments have destroyed the British people’s sense of having any say over what is or is not a crime, but at least a bit of local policing will get the conversation started.

  • Bravo, Mr Browne.

  • Maggie Smith 2nd Oct '12 - 11:22pm

    If the only fear was the fear of crime you might have a point, but I find it increasingly difficult to condone some of the policies you have supported or at the very least waved through trying to pull off that look that a person has when their dog is fouling a footpath, sort of “yes I know I’m with it and yes well it’s….but I can’t stop it” unfortunately the other part of the coalition is fouling the footpath and creating an environment of genuine fear. Simon Hughes was very vocal in his view that changing the rules on social housing would be wrong, yet with the changes in housing benefit people, not just those who do not work , but those who do and fear for the long term security of their jobs are going to find themselves in an environment of ever growing fear. Why should the driver for improvement be fear now? People should be encouraged to better thing by making available to them genuine life choices, not threats and the ever growing uncertainty about their home. One of the most admirable things about LDs was always empowering people to allow them to make the choices, improving themselves through aspiration, not as it has become and will continue to get worse.

    When the threat of being fired gets easier through changes of employment laws being loosened, when homes are in peril because housing benefits are changed, when civil liberties continue to be eroded then yes there are some criminals putting fear into society, just because they don’t wear a stripy shirt and run around with a bag with the word “swag” on it doesn’t make people any less afraid of what they do.

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