Nick Clegg’s ‘Letter from the Leader’: “no use standing up for civil liberties in opposition if you forget all about them in power”

Nick was spoiled for choice this week on which liberal touchstone issues to focus on in his latest weekly missive… Whether to talk about torpedoing of the Draft Data Communications Bill or perhaps his pro-reform/anti-drugs stance following this week’s Home Affairs select committee report — in fact he talks about both, even linking them to his pro-Leveson position. Manna from heaven to Lib Dem activists. The only surprise is that this week’s equal marriage proposals aren’t mentioned…

Do you want the Home Secretary to be able to order the storage of vast quantities of data about who you email and call, your physical location, your web browsing and Facebook sessions? No, neither do I. Untargeted, blanket powers like these are an invitation for future governments to invade your privacy.

That’s why this week I pressed the pause button on the Communications Data Bill that was going through Parliament. A special committee was established to look at the legislation and its conclusions, published on Tuesday, were crystal clear – the legislation didn’t strike the right balance between our security and our personal privacy. We need to have a fundamental rethink and produce better proposals which give the police and security professionals the powers they need without going over the top.

My decision sparked controversy in some quarters, with the usual allegations that by attempting to protect civil liberties you are, by default, on the side of terrorists and paedophiles. I’m not usually inclined to dignify such arguments with a response, but let me just repeat what I said in the papers: of course we need to look at what new technology means for how we protect people from serious crime, and we will need to take new measures to address the problem. But we can do that by striking the right balance between our collective security needs and our individual right to privacy.

That is a difficult balance to strike – even more so when you are in Government. But it is no use standing up for civil liberties in opposition if you then forget all about them in power. It’s the same pattern that sees politicians rule out a sane approach to drug laws until they are safely out of office and only then they reveal they always favoured the kind of approach this week’s Home Affairs Select Committee suggested – a willingness to look in an open-minded way at all the evidence and alternative ways of dealing with the problems caused by drugs.

In all of this I am bewildered by the way some of the biggest opponents of any kind of independent regulation of the press see no problem with the apparently limitless Government regulation of individual citizens. Liberalism for me is about protecting people from overmighty institutions while enabling people to get on in life. That’s not easy and we must always ensure that we ask ourselves tough questions, but I’m confident we are playing our part in getting the balance right. If you want to help the Liberal Democrats as we campaign for civil liberties you can support us here.

Thank you,

Nick Clegg

Do you know someone who would like to get Nick’s weekly email? Forward this message and they can sign up here:

You can read all Nick Clegg’s Letters from the Leader to date here.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • “But it is no use standing up for civil liberties in opposition if you then forget all about them in power.”

    Just like it’s no use standing up for removing tuition fees if you… Oh wait.

  • Whilst Nick Clegg sticks up for Civil Liberties,

    Miliband blows the racist dogwhistle with his attack on immigrants,

  • I worry about people who don’t have enough to eat or can’t turn the heating on in the middle of winter, just because their safety nets have been cut.

    How do people defend their civil liberties when government regulations are making people homeless?

    People work, are good members of society and pay their taxes to ensure those safety nets are there if they are needed.
    And then, out of the blue they fall on hard times, and where is the safety net?

  • This is a step in the right direction. Let’s hope for a similar move on the proposals for secret courts.

  • Cllr Colin Strong 15th Dec '12 - 3:53pm

    Finally a stand on Civil Liberties! And on Secret Courts?
    I’m still waiting for a reply from Nick Clegg on the Secret Courts issue. I e-mailed the leader over two weeks ago.
    Like Tuition Fees, I am not holding my breath.
    But Secret Courts is a fundamental issue for me.

  • Dear Nick,

    Thanks for your email about the Liberal Democrats successes this week on civil liberties. I was very pleased to hear of your decision to stand up for protecting freedoms of the individuals against an overreaching state. And the news about the Equal Marriage Bill is also good news for all who believe in equality.

    I was particularly glad to read from you your comment that:

    “it is no use standing up for civil liberties in opposition if you then forget all about them in power”.

    However I was disappointed in the omission from your email of any mention of the Justice and Security Bill which introduces secret courts into almost all civil proceedings. For reasons which are not at all clear, the Bill has been rushed to its second reading on Tuesday of this week.

    This Bill was described by crossbencher Lord Pannick QC as “unnecessary, unfair and unbalanced”. Lord Pannick voted against the Bill in the Lords, even after his amendments to improve the measures somewhat had been accepted.

    You know the outcome of September’s Conference – party members voted overwhelmingly to reject secret courts in any form.

    You know the importance of standing up for our key Liberal Democrat principles when in government, as in opposition. And you have previously said:

    “…you shouldn’t trust any government, actually including this one. You should not trust government – full stop. The natural inclination of government is to hoard power and information; to accrue power to itself in the name of the public good.”

    You are right. We shouldn’t trust any government, particularly not one that tries to put the determination of the most serious claims – torture, rendition, negligence of the armed forces, false imprisonment, habeas corpus – behind closed doors, excluding press, public and the affected civilian party. Secret courts must not be a legacy of a government which includes Liberal Democrats.

    Please do what I know you have the authority to do. Please implement our party policy. Please stop this illiberal unnecessary and offensive Bill.

    Please stand up for our civil liberties this week as you have last week.


    Jo Shaw

  • jenny barnes 16th Dec '12 - 8:55am

    What Jo said.

    Ooh look over here at the data thing, while we pass secret courts bill?

  • David Evans 16th Dec '12 - 1:44pm


    “People work, are good members of society and pay their taxes to ensure those safety nets are there if they are needed.
    And then, out of the blue they fall on hard times, and where is the safety net?”

    I suggest you ask the idiots who spent all the money due to fund the safety net, and indeed built a much bigger safety net which they were not prepared to pay for while in government and then left it to the next generation to sort out.

    Having a great benefit system for a few years paid for at the expense of future generation is utterly selfish. The last Labour government (which included Ed Milliband and Ed Balls) has a lot to answer for.

  • jenny barnes 16th Dec '12 - 3:57pm

    The last Labour government (which included Ed Milliband and Ed Balls) has a lot to answer for.

    I’d say global financial capitalism has a lot to answer for. It’s the 0.1 % that have taken all the money; what happened in 2008 was a meltdown in global capitalism. Both LDs and Tories supported Labours policies before the crash; and Labour’s response to it was enabling the economy to recover. Until 3q 2010. Oh, something happened 2Q 2010. I think this government has to answer why there’s been no growth since 3q2010, rather than blaming Labour for a global catastrophe. Tribalism and yah boo politics was supposed to be something the LDs didn’t do. 30 years of neo-liberalism – what a success it’s been.

  • jenny barnes 16th Dec '12 - 3:57pm


  • Tony Dawson 16th Dec '12 - 4:45pm

    @jenny barnes:

    ” I think this government has to answer why there’s been no growth since 3q2010, ”

    I would suggest that 2q2010 was a mirage, just like the double humps in between the double dips. Once you get in too deep, nobody is going to loan you anything much to dig you out of a quagmire of your own making – or believe you will really buckle down to get yourself out of there. And a great big chunk of where we were in 2010 WAS of Labour’s own making, just made a lot worse by the banking crisis which exposed the hidden mess. Other less-greedy and self-satisfied economies did not suffer anywhere nearly as much as UK and US: look at Canada, Australia, Germany.

  • I noted the absence of any reference to gay marraige as well. I did a search opn lib dem voice but, unless I have missed something, it hasnt been discussed here for over a year! What is the lib dem view of the dogs dinner served up by Maria Miller. I know that people will say its a coalition but there could be a coalition in parliament to have proer equality.

  • @alan Perhaps you misspelled marraige when you did your search? 🙂

    P.S. I know my spelling is no better. I just did “following” with one L in another thread.

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